Natural disasters have been, at least for many of our faith communities, a reason to pray of late. I might also title this blog post "what to pray when we experience an earthquake" because at least some of us have experienced disaster at first hand, and we needed to know what to speak to God in that moment when it was happening.
In the middle of a disaster, I can think of no better prayer than the tone chanted at compline, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." I know that a young seminary student, Ben Larson, was heard singing while buried in rubble in Haiti. This was a profound witness of prayer and faithfulness in the middle of disaster. I pray daily for the strength and faith to be as he was, able to pray and sing in the midst of death and disaster.
I remember Luther said once that when we are not near death, we should have death present to mind, but when death comes near, we should ignore it and laugh at it. Keeping it in mind daily helps guide our faith. But at the moment of death, faith re-directs our hearts and minds from the image of death to the presence of Christ.
So, what shall we pray for those who have experienced these recent earthquakes? Well, first, we should trust the power of prayer, and we should ask God to reduce them, stop them, and avert them. Faith can move mountains, so we should offer up prayer on behalf of those affected by the earthquakes and ask God to make them stop.
We know from experience that not all disasters are averted. They do happen. So the second prayer we can pray is for God's Spirit to so work through the care-givers, first-responders, etc. that lives our saved, healing is wrought, and the vulnerable are protected.
Third, we can pray by giving. If you have not already done so, I encourage everyone to set up automatic direct deposit to an organization like Lutheran Disaster Response so that all of us are giving of our material wealth to help those currently experiencing disasters, but also to be preparing to help people in future disasters.
Fourth, we can pray for creation. The creation groans in travail together with us waiting for our salvation. Creation, although created good, is not ordered in the way it will be when God establishes a new heaven and new earth. So in the meantime we can pray for the earth.
Fifth, we can pray for those who grieve. We can pray for the comfort of Christ and the balm of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, we can pray not to forget. It takes years and sometimes decades for communities to recover from disaster. So one of our prayers needs to be not to forget, but to continue to care, and pray, years after the disaster, and continue to give, or go and serve, as we are able.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
I should add that there are some things we probably shouldn't say or pray. First, we shouldn't assume that disasters befall communities because of their sin. To think such things goes counter to the direct teaching of Jesus, "At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." (Luke 13:1-6)
Furthermore, although it is often the case that we learn something through suffering, we should not believe that God has sent earthquakes or disasters in order to teach something. We might learn something through a disaster, but there wasn't an intentional lesson. To assume there is peers too closely into what is the mystery of God apart from Christ.