Prayer is a very important part of our worship services. Every week different people take turns praying for us and with us. At the beginning of the service we have a congregational prayer that reflects on our lectionary passages and the world around us. Later in the service we have a time for individuals to share their requests, concerns, and thanksgivings. Then we bow our heads and another person offers up those things to our God for us and with us.
Below is a prayer that I prepared and prayed for our Ash Wednesday service this past week. I was struck by the passage from Isaiah 58 and tried to pray that. So, read Isaiah 58:1-17 first before reading the prayer.
Praying Isaiah 58:
Holy God, God of righteousness and justice, we pray for your mercy.
The words of your prophet Isaiah strike like a double edged sword—a piercing light into our darkened lives. Our rebellion is exposed. Day after day, week after week, Sunday after Sunday, we claim to seek after God. Yet we continue to serve our own interests, and in so doing, blindly oppress our neighbors, both near and distant.
We confess that we use our acts of piety to make ourselves feel good about ourselves, to assure ourselves that we are Christians, to confidently claim that we are different from the rest of the world. But, as Isaiah says, we use our piety—our Lenten fasts and even this time of praying—to turn our heads upwards to the heights of heaven, while we crush the people around us under our feet. We walk blindly, unaware of our destruction.
As you say in Isaiah, the piety you desire, O God, happens as we contemplate the sinister ways the lives we enjoy may be wrapped up in hidden oppressions, secret violences. Thus you call us “to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke… to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our houses; and when we see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide ourselves from the needy.”
We pray that in your mercy, O Lord, you will go before us, preparing our eyes and ears to contemplate our lives during this season of Lent, so that we may discover the victims hidden from us, and repent of our sins. Then, O Lord, as your prophet declares, we may begin to see how your light shall break forth from our midst like the dawn,” and your healing hands will work through ours. We will be given the profound gift of serving in your Kingdom, participating in your work of redemption, joining our lives to yours and tasting the fruit of eternal life.
Hold us in your grace, O God, that we may practice this kind of piety, this kind of Lenten fasting that bears witness to the justice of your holy embrace with which you hold the whole world. Amen.