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Good Friday Prayer to End Death Penalty


"Is the white church going to hell?" Cheri Mills asks on Day 38 of her Lent of Liberation. Steadily, day after day, she has pierced the assumptions of the white church. As a whole, salvation history has been passed down through white supremacist structural norms. On any given Sunday, still the most divisive day of the week, the underpinnings of church-going segregation remain intact.

John the Divine's imagination of the trial of Jesus is a potent mystery: Pilate questions Jesus "Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?" (19:10)
Jesus has acknowledged that in the face of structural forces, his disciples disband and take cover.
"If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over" (Jn 18:36)
His followers would be fighting (Greek agoni-zomai, struggling with all their physical and mental energy like athletes) to keep him from being handed over to the religious authorities.

Our hope is not of this world. When we pray for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the abolition of the death penalty, the abolition of prisons, we admit our struggle makes sense in the ultimate mystery of God's coming reign.
"As visions of the night continued..." (Daniel 7:13) "I saw one like a Son of man.... His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:14)

Like the liturgy of the death of Jesus, the reading of the Prophet Daniel in (the liturgy of November 21, 2021) celebration of Christ the King marks an end to the liturgical calendar with the voice of all apocalyptic communities.

Listing the atomic bomb, followed by civil rights and the quest for equality, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin invoked the mystery of God's indwelling in the beauty of a Cathedral but presented even more beautiful, the mystery of God's incarnational imagination in us: God dwells within us as individuals and among us as a community. ...beautiful are the living temples of flesh and blood, sinew and spirit, memory and imagination.

But the vision of night continues. The white church still appears hell-bound. Cheri Mills's Lenten call for repentance asks us to examine and root out structural sin from church. For too long have white believers professed innocence from charges of sin. In this regard, I will point to the crime of a sophmoric Barrabus.
David Beasley's Without Mercy tells of a white boy in Georgia convicted of killing a white shop keeper in the 1930s. He had robbed the shop and was in fear of being killed. The old man had plenty of time to shoot him, but the boy, who had left already, came back in and killed.

“Why, with all the advantages and education and fine Christian rearing you had, did you commit three holdups and shooting?”


“Five times, Governor Ed Rivers gave S.J. Wheat, Jr., a white teenager, temporary respites from death. The governor personally held a hearing to determine whether the young man should live or die.”

But to the advocate of two young Black men, he wrote an indifferent reply: “Prison commission has no record of matter mentioned in your wire yesterday.” Thurgood Marshall, then a thirty-year old lawyer made representative of the NAACP at the best of frantic family, had telegraphed the Georgia Governor August 27:

INFORMED THAT TWO YOUNG NEGROES CHARGED WITH KILLING WHITE MAN AT COLUMBUS, GEORGIA JULY 31ST WERE TRIED AUGUST 5 AND SENTENCED TO DIE SEPTEMBER 3RD. STOP. BOTH YOUNG NEGROES SUFFERING FROM GUNSHOT WOUNDS FIVE DAYS AFTER CRIME OBVIOUSLY NOT DUE PROCESS OF LAW. STOP. STRONGLY URGE YOU AS GOVERNOR OF STATE OF GEORGIA GRANT REPRIEVE OF SUFFICIENT TIME TO PERMIT MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL AND INVESTIGATION.

--from “Lord, I am Dying” 7th chapter of David Beasley’s Without Mercy pgs 109, 108.


Nicodemus brought with him a bag of myrrh and aloes weighing one hundred pounds. He might have asked Mills’ question to himself as he made this preparation for the care of Jesus’s body. 

In praying this morning for the 15 executed since Good Friday of 2020, here a scripture reflection, Andrea Hug speaks of God’s mercy for “...our shame, or forgiving the unforgivable.” While God continues to call us, the commandments may in our hearts be re-written, so that we may re-envision the Good News in order to take down Christ from the crosses of our times.


“The former Imperial Palace of the Ku Klux Klan was purchased by the Catholic Church,” David Beasley writes in Without Mercy: The Stunning True Story of Race, Crime, and Corruption in the Deep South (St. Martin’s, 2014). “The white-columned mansion from which so much vitriol had been generated was torn down. On that ground, a church called Christ the King was constructed” (Beasley 209).


That Mills’ question is a lance--her attitude is no more of the coddling to hell-bound white innocence, no more of the respite to white cold-blooded indifference; as even now tolerance of hate persists, symbolic forgiveness, "moving on" is a scandal. God’s reign of Justice demands more of us. 

-*-*-*-

 In prayer of grief for the 15 people who were executed since Good Friday 2020:


O God, creator of heaven and earth,

in Jesus, your Son, you became human.

You suffered and were the victim of a cruel system, 

condemned to death

before you even spoke a word of defense.

You were executed, while Mary, your mother, 

wept at the foot of the Cross.

And send us your Spirit, O God,

to change the systems

that do not bring forth your Kingdom.


For Walter Barton, executed by the State of Missouri, for those victims of crime, and for Walter, and those who loved him, and for those who participated in the execution May 19, 2020.

For Billy Wardlow, executed by the State of Texas, for those victims of crime, and for Billy, and those who lived him, and for those who participated in his execution July 8.

For Daniel Lewis Lee, executed by the Federal Government July 14, for the victims of crime, and for Billy and those who loved him, and for those who participated in the execution.

For Weshay Ira Porkey, executed July 16 by the Federal Government; for those victims of crime, for Weshay, and those who loved him, and for those who participated in the execution.

For Dustin Honken, executed by the Federal Government, for those victims of crime, for Dustin, and those who loved him, and for those who participated in his execution July 17.

For Lezmod Mitchell, executed by the Federal Government for those victims of crime, for Lezmond, and those who loved him, and for those who participated in the execution August 26.

For Keith Dwayne Nelson, executed by the Federal Government, for those victims of crime, for Keith and those who loved him, and for those who participated in the execution August 28.

For William LeCroy, executed by the Federal Government, for those victims of crime, for William, and those who loved him, and for those who participated in the execution September 22. 

For Christopher Vialva, executed by the Federal Government, for those victims of crime, for Christopher, and for those who loved him, and for those who participated in his execution September 24.

For Orlando Hall, executed by the Federal Government November 19, for those victims of crime, for Orlando and those who loved him, and for those who participated in his execution.

For Brando Bernard, executed by the Federal Government, for those victims of crime, for Brando, and those who loved him, and for those who participated in his execution December 10.

For Alfred Bourgeois, executed December 11 by the Federal Government, for those victims of crime, for Alfred and those who loved him, and for those who participated in his execution.

For Lisa Montgomery, murdered January 12 by the Federal Government, for those victims of crime, for Lisa and those who loved her, and for those who participated in the execution.

For Corey Johnson, executed January 14 by the Federal Government, for Corey and those who loved him, and for those victims of crime, and those who participated in the execution. 

For Dustin Higgs, executed by the Federal Government January 16, for those victims of crime, for Dustin and those who loved him, and those who participated in the execution.

Jesus, you were counted among thieves,

and you were the victim of capital punishment.

Yet you came to set free those who are imprisoned.

Heal the souls of those who, in their pain, inflict suffering on others.

Help us to see ourselves in the face of the criminal.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive the sins of those who have trespassed against us.

Give us the power not to punish but to heal,

not to seek retribution but to work for restoration and the reign of your peace.

Holy Spirit, of God, you strengthen us in the struggle for justice.

Help us to work tirelessly for the abolition of state sanctioned death 

and to renew our society in its very heart so that violence will be no more. 

Amen

<https://catholicsmobilizing.org/resource/good-friday-prayer-vigil?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=a70b7ace-cd66-467d-81f3-2fec3096917a>.

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