The Collect of the Season & Reflection

Blessing for Lent

Look with compassion, O God, upon your people; that, rightly observing this Lenten season, they may learn to know you more fully, and to serve you with a more perfect will; through Christ our Savior.

- adapted from THE BOOK OF OCCASIONAL SERVICES, The Episcopal Church

Vicar's Voice - Lent 2024

Righteous God, this world falls short of your goodwill for it. Remember all people who live in the wake of crime and violence: victims, perpetrators, those imprisoned justly and unjustly, those awaiting execution, those sworn to protect the public safety and to administer justice. Strengthen us to seek true justice and to pursue true peace, for the sake of him who was taken away by a perversion of justice, but who promises your kingdom will come and is even today present among us. Amen

- Mike Poteet, WITNESS AT THE CROSS Leader Guide (Abingdon Press, 2021)

Our Lenten book study, WITNESS AT THE CROSS, started with an examination of the many bystanders who either intended or happened to be present at Jesus' condemnation, carrying of the Cross, and execution on Calvary. It was a challenge not to project ourselves into any number of those discussed in AJ Levine's first chapter: passersby, Simon of Cyrene, priests, scribes, and elders.

Then we were challenged to examine those who were crucified with Jesus, the bandits or criminals, on either side. While the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus names them (Dismas and Gestas), the canonical Gospels do not identify them other than by what they say about one another and what they say to Jesus, and what he says to them in return. We know that they, too, have been condemned (and that there were likely others crucified with Jesus that day). We know that their offenses against Rome were grave enough to be sentenced to crucifixion. We know that they had faith that Jesus could save them and that they recognized his power and dominion.

What is (and should be) appropriately disturbing is how this particular story component invites our reflection. I appreciate the desperation that they felt, particularly the first who cries out for salvation. I admire the apparent calm faith of the second who admonishes the first and asks that Jesus remember them. I am moved by Jesus' compassion for these other victims, not continuing to blame or judge them but promising that they would be with Jesus in paradise.

Whatever their crimes or offenses, I have difficulty finding justification for this execution. Crucifixion was exhausting and humiliating, loss of awareness, shortness of breath, drowning in one's bodily fluids, and mortifying. It was a public exhibit of authority and power that was not to be challenged, was not to be ignored.

This reflection invited me to be aware of our own criminal justice and rehabilitation system. We should always support those who protect our public lives by placing their own lives at risk - our prayers for our law enforcement and administrators are essential. At the same time, I think about those who I know have struggled through their brokenness to live in community with others for reasons of addiction challenges, cognitive and emotional abilities, and life experiences. We expect those with whom we share public spaces to be as compassionate and respectful as we are, knowing that there will always be those who fight demons of anger and aggressiveness, distrust and fear, intolerance and prejudice, reliance on chemicals, and challenges to acuity.

Levine invites us, first, to always hold up the victims, knowing that they and their families and friends will always need our love and support. When I was a victim of a shooting a few decades back, I noticed how many reached out to support me and Almi, but also how many avoided talking about it with us. Honest conversation and demonstration of care (when invited and welcomed) are powerful ways to help victims heal. We also must pray for our persecutors (for Jesus said we must), and consider their life experiences and situations that brought about their hardness of heart, dismissing their concern for others.

I am drawn back to the two crosses on either side of the Cross of Christ. I lament the loss of these two lives in such a violent manner. I find empathy for them and for those who loved them. I treasure Jesus' compassion for them, being reminded that I, too, am loved despite my sinfulness.

Peace in Christ,

Fr. Shawn