November 22, 2013

"…until natural death."

This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King and churches throughout the diocese are being asked to pray for the repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire.  This weekend was chosen as the gospel passage pertains to Jesus' crucifixion and the mercy He showed the penitent thief crucified next to Him.  Other house of worship throughout the state are also taking part in this event.  Bishop Libasci is at the forefront of this effort because there has been no better time to abolish the death penalty.  A bill is being introduced in the state legislature that would do just that and the governor has indicated that she will sign it.  The bill would not impact, from what I understand, Michael Addison, the convicted murderer of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs, who stands on death row in Concord.

We are having prayer services today during each theology class in our chapel praying for the repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire.  I know many students disagree with church teaching on this matter and have told me as such.  But, I reminded them that Officer Briggs' police partner, John Breckenridge, who was with Briggs the night he was murdered in 2006, opposes the death penalty.  I serve with him on the faith committee of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.  I also reminded them that last year Bob Curley, the father of a murder victim, spoke to us last year and how even he opposes the death penalty.  This is not all to say that people like Addison should not be punished.  On the contrary.  But, as I said in my reflection, even God punished Cain of the murder of his brother Abel but also showed him mercy.

For our prayer, we prayed Psalm 85, listened to the gospel passage of the penitent thief, prayed some intentions, and a final prayer.  I also offered the following reflection:

Have you ever counted the number of crosses in this school?  There is one in every classroom, every office, in Alumni Hall, on our roof, and in the gym.  There are over 15 crosses in this chapel alone.  Perhaps it’s because there haven’t been widespread crucifixions in over 2,000 years but these are the equivalent of having mini gallows or electric chairs hanging on our walls - with lifeless bodies hanging or strapped in.

For years, the cross was an instrument of death.  There was no worse way to die - you were hung or nailed to the cross and suffered a long, painful death as you slowly died of asphyxiation.  After Jesus rose from the dead, that instrument of death became a symbol of hope, a reminder that while we will die, we too will rise from the dead if we are like Christ.  

That promise of resurrection, of new life is not just for people like you and me, it’s also for people like Michael Addison.  God became a man to show you and me how to truly live...that is, how to be Christ.  Many times we screw up, other times we do terrible, ruthless things. We should be punished, we should face up to our actions but we never lose our humanity.  When Cain killed his brother Abel in the book of Genesis, God punished Cain severely - he tossed him out of paradise and made him wander the Earth for the rest of his life.  But, God also showed mercy to Cain.  God put a mark on him that indicated that no one should harm Cain or seek revenge on him for killing his brother.  Jesus showed that same mercy to the man hanging on a cross next to Him in the gospel passage we just heard.  That man, sentenced to death for a reason we don’t know, was promised eternal life by the savior of the world without even asking him about his crime and evil deed that led him to be crucified.  Mercy and questions asked.

We are called to do the same.  We should not reduce ourselves to the level of the executioner.  We are called to a higher good and a better way.  

In the end, crosses hangs in our school as a reminder that death has lost, life has won.  God’s way is superior to that of the executioner.  The crosses stand tall to mock death, to mock evil and to embrace God and the example Jesus gave to you and me.


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