Jesus’s Crucifixion and Other Victims of Execution

Amy-Jill Levine’s recent book, Witness at the Cross, includes a chapter entitled “The Other Victims.” It is the account of Jesus’s interaction with the two anonymous men crucified with him. Dr. Levine aptly suggests that the inclusion by the Gospel writers of these two condemned men forces us to consider those awaiting execution in today’s prisons.

Over my years as a pastor and a bishop, I have spent many hours sitting with men condemned to be executed. Unlike the men in the Gospels, the ones I have visited have names. I have known some of their families. I listened to the anguished cries of a mother who watched her son executed by the state. She loved her son no less than the mother of the person he had murdered. In the name of “justice for the victim,” the state created additional victims and added to the culture of violence that plagues our world.

South Carolina is set to resume executions later this month. Since the state has had difficulty obtaining the lethal drugs needed to put Richard Moore to death, he must choose between the electric chair and the firing squad. Below is a letter I have sent to the governor requesting that he stop this barbaric action.

May Jesus’s attentiveness to the two other victims of state-sponsored execution on that fateful day two thousand years ago cause us to remember the approximately 2500 persons awaiting execution in our prisons today. From my understanding of the Incarnation, their execution will be a repeat of Jesus’s crucifixion!

It was for the two “bandits,” those participating in the execution, and us that Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 CEB).

The Honorable Henry McMaster
State House
1100 Gervais Street
Columbia, South Carolina 29201

Dear Governor McMaster:

               I wish to strongly urge you to stay the execution of Richard Moore, currently scheduled to take place April 29. While Mr. Moore’s crime is a grave tragedy for which accountability is appropriate, it does not reach the level of premeditation and heinousness for which the death penalty is intended. From the news reports and court records, he entered the convenient store unarmed and his offense was fueled by drug addiction; therefore, the resulting murder was not premediated and took place in a struggle over a weapon.

               During this Holy Week for Christians, we relive the state sponsored execution of Jesus the Christ. As a retired United Methodist bishop, pastor, and seminary professor, I strongly support my denomination’s opposition to the death penalty. No evidence exists that executions are a deterrent to crime, and death inflicted by the state only adds to the culture of violence that permeates our society. Having visited persons on death row over more than fifty years of Christian ministry, I can testify that it only adds to the number of victims of violence as the families and friends of those executed are victimized by the state.

 I hope that before you make your decision whether to stop this barbaric act that you will exercise courage and visit with Mr. Moore and his family. As Jesus was attentive in his dying hours to the two men executed with him and offered forgiveness and assurance, I hope you will be attentive to Mr. Moore as a fellow human being, made in the divine image and redeemed in Jesus Christ. As one who has publicly declared as being “pro-life,” please be consistently pro-life and respect Mr. Moore’s right to life.

               Please be assured of my prayers as you discern the fate of Mr. Moore. May you bear witness to the justice and compassion as made known in Jesus the Christ, whom you and I seek to follow and serve.

Prayerfully yours,

Kenneth L. Carder

God Redeems the Silent and Dark Places

As a pastor, I largely overlooked Holy Saturday as an essential part of the divine drama of Holy Week. It was a welcomed day of rest after the intensity of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Not this year! This year the silence and darkness between Friday’s crucifixion and Sunday’s resurrection speaks poignantly to where I am.

Within the last six months I’ve lost my wife of 58 years and an older brother, plus a beloved bishop friend, and two colleague/mentors. Treasured voices have been silenced and the places they occupied have become a dark void.

Added to the void is the isolation of a global pandemic. The wait for release from imposed aloneness is more than three days! We don’t know when it will end. When it does end, life will be different; but the shape of that difference remains unknown.

So, I identify more closely with the disciples on that first Holy Saturday. They were locked behind closed doors. Grieving! Afraid! Lonely! Confused! Apprehensive! Waiting!

Death creates silent and dark places for all of us. All losses are accompanied by silence and darkness.

Life itself is filled with unanswered questions, unfulfilled dreams, unwelcomed loneliness.

It is into all those silent and dark places that Christ enters on Holy Saturday. The ancient creed affirms that Jesus “descended to the dead” and “the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead” (1 Peter 4:6).

In the death of Jesus, God has claimed even the silent and dark places as realms of divine love and promise.

On that first Holy Saturday, the disciples were together in their silence and darkness.

We, too, are together emotionally even though physically separated. It is in our togetherness that God comes in our silent and dark places.

The author of 1 Peter offered this word of encouragement as we wait in silence and darkness: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another.”

Love speaks in the silence and shines light in the darkness!

 

 

 

 

 

“From Dust to Dust”

Ash Wednesday

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return!”

I’ve said those words countless times as I placed ashes and the sign of the cross on the forehead of worshipers. And, I’ve had them spoken to me at the beginning of Lent for decades.

But this year the words have a particular poignancy. Linda, with whom my life has been deeply intertwined in a profound bond of love for six decades, has too quickly returned “to dust” from which she came.

Within the last five years, death has claimed my wife, my mother, sister, brother, brother-in-law,  uncle, aunt, several friends, colleagues, and neighbors.

On this Ash Wednesday, “To dust you shall return”  sounds and feels more like a personal medical prognosis than a routine religious ritual.

The circle is drawing closer. Life is narrowing. Energy is lessening. Capacities are diminishing. Frailty lies on the horizon. Time is running out.

I know this seems grim and foreboding. But, Ash Wednesday and Lent are about confronting the reality that we all live with the dust from which we came and the dust to which we return.

Life is always Frail! Fragile! Fleeting!

Yet, there is a strange freedom in acknowledging our own frailty and mortality. The idols of control, self aggrandizement, and invincibility are stripped away.

What’s left amid the ashes of crumbling idols is Grace! Gift! God!

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are words spoken in community as we are marked with the sign of Cross.

The One who breathes into the dust from which we came redeems the dust to which we return.

So, we are not alone on our journey from dust. . . to dust!

And, we journey toward a new heaven and new earth where “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more . . .” (Revelation 21:4).