Praying for Las Vegas: Lord Have Mercy

Posted by Michelle Tepper, on October 7, 2017
Topic: Blog

“Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy on us”

A historical Christian prayer applied to the Las Vegas shootings

 The Las Vegas massacre leaving 59 dead and over 500 injured is now reported as the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The trauma of reaching this grim new benchmark is compounded by the mere 16 months recovery we have had since the previous deadliest shooting in Orlando. Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker issued a harsh diagnosis of the brevity between these events in his article following the Las Vegas shooting.[1]

“People typically have to apply themselves to reach new benchmarks, and it is indisputable that we, as a society, have applied ourselves to reach this one.”

In other words, we, as a society have applied ourselves to reach new benchmarks of pure evil.


As I have considered the magnitude of these events and this potential diagnosis of the human condition, the only words to which I continually return is “Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy on us.” These words are from one of oldest responsive prayers of Christian liturgy practiced historically in both Eastern and Western church traditions and are still used today. I was first introduced to the prayer through the Church of England during my studies at Oxford. The prayer in its original form “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison” is derived from the New Testament and is used in corporate worship as a repeated refrain after petitions are made to the Lord either by a pastor or a member of the congregation leading a time of communal intercessions.

The rhythm of petition and response creates space for the much needed yet often unpracticed communal processing of our shared human existence. Every petition said by the leader is answered with a continual cry for mercy. What does this cry for mercy signify? How can it help us as we seek to process this tragedy and support the victims of Las Vegas in the days to come?

A Cry for Deliverance

“Lord, have mercy.” These are words of desperation. A cry for mercy is a cry for help or deliverance from a burden that is too great to bear. The brutality of these events shows a lack of regard for human life that is indeed pure evil. How do we fight evil? It is an invisible reality that is powerful yet unpredictable, and often only named in hindsight. The government, first responders, friends, and family can at times predict, contain, legislate, and act against evil. However, it is a reality outside of our natural world that we can never fully fight in our natural capacity alone. As we cry for mercy in the face of pure evil, we recognize our need for power, relief, and compassion from a source more powerful than ourselves.

An Act of Humility

The prayer is both a statement and a request. Our human need for supernatural deliverance is declared as a request to ‘the Lord. “Lord, have mercy” is a statement of authority. It is a recognition that there is a God; we are not God and only He is powerful enough to answer our request. This prayer for mercy forces us out of our natural self-centeredness and back into alignment with the nature and character of our creator

A Request for Forgiveness

Continual surrender to the lordship of someone other than ourselves invites us to a continual need for repentance. The Christian understanding of repentance speaks of a change in thought, a turning of direction. The Christian worldview agrees with the harsh diagnosis that we are all contributors to the evil we encounter in our world. The Bible refers to it as sin. Sin is separation from God. When we choose to define morality, meaning, justice, and truth based on our own feelings and desires, or anything other than our Holy God, we are separated from the eternal and true source of love and goodness. Our sin separates us from God, but we cannot live with evil that comes from our separation. It’s upon this recognition that we cry out “Christ, have mercy.” Jesus came to restore our relationship with God, He sacrificed his life to deliver us from the burden of our sins. On the cross, He took the just punishment we deserved upon Himself so that we could receive the forgiveness and mercy we desperately need. How can we cry for deliverance from the evil happening to us until we cry for mercy and forgiveness for the evil that happens through us?

A Statement of Hope

It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that we have the blessed assurance that anyone who believes and receives Christ as Lord will receive mercy. The beauty of the good news of Jesus is that God is constantly demonstrating his love and showing mercy even before many of us realize our need. The biblical understanding of mercy is always linked to the compassion God has for humanity. He is the God who suffers alongside his children; He is the God of all comfort who comes alongside us in tragedy, and He is the healer and restorer of our souls. When we cry out for mercy on behalf of others, we are asking God to bring supernatural comfort and healing to our broken world. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America uses a beautiful description[2] of mercy to unpack this powerful aspect of the Kyie Eleison prayer.

“The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for ‘Lord, have mercy,’ are ‘Kyrie, eleison’ that is to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal, a very Western interpretation, but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray ‘Lord, have mercy,’ with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.”

 

“Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy on us” is a prayer that signifies our need for deliverance, forgiveness, and healing that comes from Christ alone. It is a prayer that moves us from self-centered to God-centered living and offers hope and healing to our hearts and our broken world.

Here is a version of this type of prayer that you may find helpful to use as we remember Las Vegas. 

For Las Vegas, let us pray to the Lord.
  Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy on us

For the victims and for the families of those who have died, grant relief to those suffering from physical injuries, give peace to troubled minds, and pour out your comfort to wounded and grieving souls.

  Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy on us

For deliverance from all danger, violence, oppression, and
degradation, for freedom from all fear, healing from trauma, and the grace to forgive we pray.
  Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy on us

For the things we’ve done and left undone, for the ways we’ve wandered from Your heart. Father, forgive us we pray.  

  Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy on us

Defend us, deliver us, and in your great compassion protect us evil. Let the light of your glorious gospel fill us and flow out of us wherever we go.

We thank you for your great mercy, Father God, and we pray all of these things in confidence through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

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[1] Cobb, Jelani. “Another Worst Mass Shooting in the United States,” The New Yorker(2 Oct. 2017), www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/another-worst-mass-shooting-in-the-united-states.

[2] Benjamin D. Williams and Harold B. Anstall, Orthodox Worship, A Living Continuity With the Temple, the Synagogue and the Early Church . (Minneapolis : Light and Life Publishing Co.,1990). quoted in Anthony M. Coniaris, “Kyrie Eleison, Lord Have Mercy,” online at https://www.goarch.org/-/kyrie-eleison-lord-have-mercy.