Teach Us to Improve Our Justice

Posted by Ruth Beresford on

There was an error in my sermon at the services I preached last Sunday. I reversed two numbers. I said "eleven" when I should have said "eight," because the State of Arkansas was attempting to execute EIGHT death row inmates in eleven days and not the other way around. Before one of the three drugs used in their method of execution itself expired, they carried out four of the executions. I spoke of Ledell Lee, whose request for his final meal was Holy Communion, the meal of forgiveness, the banquet of heaven, the real presence of the Lord.

As you may know, our State legislature is reconsidering the death penalty this week. Being a Christian means bringing faith into life, to address the challenges, the quandaries - the complexity of being human. As Episcopalians, we are asked to combine the witness of scripture, of the Church's 2,000 year tradition, and the gift of reason, revealed in modern scholarship as well as the workings of our own minds in order to guide us to right actions. We pray that the Holy Spirit leads us as individuals, navigating the daily choices we make for the right and good, and as citizens who participate in the establishment of government and its determination of the right course for our common life. So when I hear that the State of Delaware is debating a law to bring back the State's right to execute prisoners, I have to ask what the combined witness of scripture, the Church's tradition, and the gift of reason say about such a law. I may come to a different decision than you, but my hope is that our State ends the practice of execution. For me, Ledell Lee's whole story - not just the crimes he committed - should be enough testimony that we leave room for mercy, while preventing his return to society. And what is true for one death row inmate can also be true for others. That's why I'm calling my representative and praying that God will guide our legislature this week.

Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal.  Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for you, constrain us to improve their lots. All this we ask for your mercy's sake. Amen. - Book of Common Prayer, page 826


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