On the weekend of May 29 through June 1, 2020, people of good will and many faiths will pause to mourn the 100,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus, culminating in a National Day of Mourning and Lament. The prayers below can be adapted for use on social media, using the hashtags #Lament100k and #DayofMourning, and in religious services (permission is given). On Monday, June 1, many individuals, faith communities, and civic groups will place empty chairs on sidewalks or in other public places with the names and photos of those who have died. On Friday, Muslims; on Saturday, Jews; on Sunday, Christians will offer prayers for the dead in their services. On Monday at noon in each time zone, governors, mayors, and other government leaders invite all Americans to pause for times of silence to honor our dead.
In the wake of World War I and the Spanish flu, the poet T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” The blooming of lilacs and poppies was mismatched to the world’s grief. On this final weekend in May, our nation too passes a grievous point in our history: 100,000 Americans dead from COVID-19. Over this weekend, people of good will and people of faith—Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others—will not and cannot let this grim number pass unnoticed. It is always and everywhere the vocation of religion to remember the dead and mourn their passing.
Please see below for prayers from various religious traditions.
'A Voice Is Heard in Ramah': Responsive Prayers from Sojourners
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations!”—Lamentations 1:1
O God, Creator of the universe, we stand before you as fragile humans, made only of earthy clay and Your breath. In all humility, we hold to you all those who are sick with the coronavirus, who are COVID positive, and all those who care for them and work intimately for their healing. We name the sick and hold them in Your healing light, O Lord. Hear our prayer.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”—Matthew 2:18
In all humility, we turn to our God today to honor our dead. We have had no time, no space, no moment to mourn. We made promises to love and protect our families, “til death do us part.” In their final days, we are heart-broken that we were apart from those who were dying. May they forgive us. May we forgive ourselves. We claim in faith that we are born from God, we live for God, and we return to God. We seek rest and time in you. Hear our prayer.
“My companions and neighbors you have put away from me, and hidden my friends out of my sight.”—Psalm 88:18
O God, you are the Keeper of the Book of Life, and no one dies alone—but all under your loving gaze. So that their passing is not an empty data point on death’s grim graph, let us say the names of those who have died and to remember them. [Name the names of the dead here.] Into your hands, O Lord, we commend their spirits. Hear our prayer.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”—Romans 12:15
Give us the gift of weeping, O God, for tears of love are always holy. It is not only our loved one who are lost, but our jobs, our neighborhoods, our familiarity with family, and graduations and classes. May our mourning, lamenting, remembering, and learning from these losses not disappear like water in sand, but push us to weep from time to time. Keep us tenderhearted, we pray. Hear our prayer.
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”—Ephesians 4:1-2
As we American face together this unprecedented season, let love fill all our hearts, so that the greatness of our nation continues to break open before us. Draw every American, into the values of courage, duty, honorable action, self-sacrifice, generosity, neighborliness, responsibility, and mercy, which are the hallmarks of our country. Give us courage, O Lord. Hear our prayer.
“May your way may be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.”—Psalm 67:2
To those who have lost loved ones, we—your fellow citizens—offer you comfort, not condolence, empathy, not sympathy. As a people we have borne this pandemic’s cost in the lives of our families; as a nation we shall honor and mourn them together. Let peace and good health prevail among all the nations, O God, and may it be so in our own families, communities, states, and land on this day and each day to come. These families are your families, O Lord. Hear our prayer.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”— 2 Corinthians 5:17
Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: that weeping must be real because endings are real; and that weeping permits newness. Christ’s weeping with us permits the kingdom to come. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling opens us to envision a new “normal,” to envision an America true to her dreams, true to our native land to have a new birth of freedom and justice for all. Lord, open our eyes to a new and holy vision that your people may be your people in the days to come. Make us brave, O Lord, together. Hear our prayer. Amen.
'God of Consolation': Prayers from the Jewish Community
God of consolation,
Surely you count in heaven,
Just as we count here on earth,
In shock and in sorrow,
The souls sent back to You,
The dead from the COVID pandemic,
As the ones become tens,
The tens become hundreds,
The hundreds become thousands,
The thousands become ten-thousands
And then hundred-thousands,
Each soul, a heartbreak,
Each soul, a life denied.
God of wisdom,
Surely in the halls of divine justice
You are assembling the courts,
Calling witnesses to testify,
The compassion of some
And the callousness of others
As we’ve struggled to cope.
The souls taken too soon,
Whose funerals were lonely,
Who didn’t need to die,
Who died alone,
Will tell their stories
When You judge
And our failures
In these hours of need.
God of healing, an end to this pandemic,
And all illness and disease.
Bless those who stand in service to humanity.
Bless those who grieve.
Bless the dead,
So that their souls are bound up in the bond of life eternal.
And grant those still afflicted
With disease or trauma
A completed and lasting healing,
Until suffering ceases,
And we can stop counting the dead,
In heaven And on earth.
The prayer aboveis written by Alden Solovy, a liturgist, poet, and teacher. He’s the author of Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing. © 2020 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. Reproduced with permission.
'Our People Have Fallen': Prayers from the African American Black Church
God of our weary years and silent tears, we lift up our hearts in praise to you. You alone are able to receive the hailstorm of our tears and the torrential rain of our grief over the sudden death of nearly 100,000 of your precious children of all ages, backgrounds and social strata, from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Whether or not we have directly experienced the pain of loss, an indescribable spirit of lamentation and sorrow has fallen upon our collective American family. The sheer thought of 100,000 humans, made in the your divine image, enough to fill any city, suddenly gone, numbs our minds and overwhelms our hearts.
O God in heaven, hear our heart's cry out for the loss of those who will never be mere numbers to us. They are our beloved mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, children, and extended family. They are beloved fellow Americans, suddenly wiped out by an Invisible enemy mightier than all the world’s armies. Merciful Lord, we ask you to bless all those now shouldering heavy financial burdens from so great a loss.
All this has happened, Lord God, but we have not forgotten your promise to be with us in trouble and deliver us. Forgive the sin of our nation for the disproportionate number of people of color among the fallen, victimized by health care inequities and the unbearable burden of systemic racial injustice.
In the days ahead, we ask you Lord, to wrap loving arms around those left only with fleeting memories of warm smiles, joy-filled laughter, spirit-lifting hugs, the matchless pleasure of special days celebrated, and contributions to a better;world now ended. You, alone, O God, can turn our mourning into dancing and our grief into joy over the sweet remembrance of our beloved. May you now rest their souls. In your blessed name, Lord God, we pray. Amen.
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner is president of the Skinner Leadership Institute and co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network
'For the Power of the Spirit Among the People of God': From the Episcopal Church, USA
God of all power and love,
we give thanks for your unfailing presence
and the hope you provide in times of uncertainty and loss.
Send your Holy Spirit to enkindle in us your holy fire.
Revive us to live as Christ’s body in the world:
a people who pray, worship, learn,
break bread, share life, heal neighbors,
bear good news, seek justice, rest and grow in the Spirit.
Wherever and however we gather,
unite us in common prayer and send us in common mission,
that we and the whole creation might be restored and renewed,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This collect will be used by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in Washington National Cathedral’s Pentecost service, during which Curry will preach.