All-compassionate God – you are the God who sees the misery of your people and who hears their cries. You are the one who actively inspires liberation and healing for all people everywhere. For this reason, we trust our prayers to you today. We trust our prayers to you because we trust you are who Jesus tells us you are – an all-compassionate God.
All-compassionate One, our prayers are for those who died in the Johannesburg fire this week, for those who were injured and all those grief-stricken. We bring them before you. We bring them not as strangers but as family members. Family members known to you, yet not known by us. We know the statistics; you know their names. We know the number of the dead; you have been lovingly present to them all of their days. You have known their longings and hopes and dreams. You know each of their life-stories, you were with them on the journey they took to reach and settle in that building. You witnessed their courage and perseverance. Some of them would have praised you for providing such a place. A terrible place yet, the best terrible place they could find.
Lord, there are no words in our vocabulary – that are able to hold the trauma and grief we have witnessed this past week. Yet when our words fail, we take strength in knowing that your Spirit helps us in our weakness, that when we do not know how to pray, your Spirit intercedes for us, with sighs that are deeper than our words.
Intercede Lord by your life-giving and comforting Spirit, yes, for these prayers spoken here and now, but most crucially intercede by your Spirit through the sighs of all those most painfully involved…
For the silent sighs of those who died in their sleep – breathing in smoke without knowing they were breathing in death.
For the gasping sighs – of those awake to the fact that the fire was stealing their oxygen.
For panicked sighs of those terrifyingly trapped. Blinded by smoke. Blocked by flame.
For the screaming sighs – calling out in search of child, in search of parent.
For the desperate sighs of helplessness. No way out.
For the sighs of defeat in the choice of death: Death by flame or death by falling.
For the sighs of the brave – deep breaths of courage – risking their lives to rescue and resuscitate.
For the sighs of those who attended to the tragic scene – who fought the fire, who carried the dead, who wrapped body after body.
For the sighs of relatives, identifying body after body.
For the sighs of those broken by grief – taken to edge of insanity.
For the sighs of those who are alone – with no one to process this pain with.
For the sighs of everlasting trauma that will mark every future breath.
All-compassionate God – soften our hearts and fill us with compassion to see as you see and hear as you hear – that we too may actively facilitate liberation and healing in our land and world. Forgive us for our instincts to blame the victims for their fate. For searching for scapegoats to hold responsible. For scoring political points. For shirking responsibility.
Forgive us above all for our lack of compassion that allows suffering to go unnoticed and unattended every day in every corner of this country. Finally, only arresting our attention when gigantic tragedy results as the consequence of our indifference.
All-compassionate God have mercy and may your mercy move us to bring justice for the poorest of the poor. So be it.