A Litany of Lament for Charleston

I was encouraged, yesterday afternoon, scrolling through social media and reading about how different churches intentionally made space to lament the fallen in Charleston and to call out the specific sins of racism that cannot be separated from these murders. Our church was on our annual retreat and so had the gift of extra time to listen to one another, to pray, and to slowly participate in one of the most painful and meaningful experiences of the Lord’s Supper I’ve ever experienced. Yesterday we used a litany of lament that was pulled from a few different places. I’m sharing it here, especially for those who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to participate in corporate lament yesterday.

Photo Credit: Stephen Melkisethian
Photo Credit: Stephen Melkisethian
A Lament After Charleston By Mark Charles (Navajo)

Today I lament, I mourn over the life of each and every person that was violently taken in Charleston South Carolina: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel L. Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor.

I lament that a 5-year-old child was robbed of her innocence and forced to “play” dead in order to survive. I lament that today, the confederate flag is still flying in the Capitol of South Carolina.

I lament the roots of dehumanization that exist within the founding documents of the United States of America; in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Supreme Court case precedents.

I lament that our nation continues to celebrate its racist foundations with holidays like Columbus Day, sports mascots like the Washington Redsk*ns and the putting of faces like Andrew Jackson on our currency.

I lament the deaths of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and countless others. I lament the words of our political candidates who promise to lead America back to its former “greatness”, ignorant of the fact that much of America’s “greatness” was built on the exploitation and dehumanization of its people of color.

Charleston South Carolina one individual committed a single evil and heinous act of violence, while minority communities throughout the country are bracing themselves because the horrors of the past 500 years are continuing into their lifetime.

I lament with every person and community, throughout the history of this nation, who, due to the color of their skin, had to endure marginalization, silence, discrimination, beatings, lynching, cultural genocide, boarding schools, internment camps, mass incarceration, broken treaties, stolen lands, murder, slavery and discovery.

Today I lament that the United States of America does not share a common memory and therefore is incapable of experiencing true community.

Confession of Sin from the Covenant Book of Worship

We are sorry, God; hear our repentance for our wayward handling of life. We have squandered time, hoarded money, avoided challenges, and used others. We have borne waiting grievously, illness stubbornly, trials reluctantly, and responsibility half-heartedly. We have doubted your care, mistrusted your providence, distorted your power, and ignored your love. We have neglected our discipleship, injured our relationships, sabotaged our fellowship, and underrated your forgiveness. Forgive us now, we pray, and let us try again, sensitive to your Spirit and committed to your will. Amen.

A CALL TO WORSHIP FOR THE TRAGEDY IN CHARLESTON BY ONE CHURCH LITURGY*

[Leader] We stand before you today, oh Lord Hearts broken, eyes weeping, heads spinning Our African American brothers and sisters were murdered They gathered and prayed and then were no more The prayer soaked walls of the church are spattered with blood The enemy at the table turned on them in violence While they were turning to you in prayer

[All] We stand with our sisters We stand with our brothers We stand with their families We stand with Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel L. Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor We stand to bear their burden in Jesus’ name

[Leader] We cry out to you, oh Lord Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, heads spinning The violence in our streets has come into your house The racism in our cities and our churches has crept into your sanctuary The brokenness in our lives has broken into your temple The dividing wall of hostility has crushed our brothers and sisters We cry out to you, May your Kingdom come, may it be on earth as it is in heaven

[All] We cry out for our sisters We cry out for our brothers We cry out for their families We cry out for peace in Jesus’ name

[Leader] We pray to you today, oh Lord Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, souls stirring We pray for our enemies, we pray for those who persecute us We pray to the God of all Comfort to comfort our brothers and sisters in their mourning, to comfort us in our mourning We pray that you would bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes We pray that you would give them the oil of joy instead of mourning We pray that you would give them a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair

[All] We pray for our sisters We pray for our brothers We pray for their families We pray for their comfort in Jesus’ name

[Leader] We declare together, oh Lord With hearts breaking, eyes weeping and souls stirring We will continue to stand and cry and weep with our brothers and sisters We will continue to make a place of peace for even the enemies at our table We will continue to open our doors and our hearts to those who enter them We will continue to seek to forgive as we have been forgiven We will continue to love in Jesus’ name because you taught us that love conquers all

[All] We declare our love for you, our Sisters We declare our love for you, our Brothers We declare our love for you, their families We declare our love as one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism We declare they do not grieve alone today

Psalm 77 

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

_______________
*The version here has been edited by me to be more specific to the actual event in Charleston. See another version here, edited by Kathy Khang and Misuzu Miyashita.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

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