Letter of EB to the Churches

St SilasApostolic Letters from Prison

In the book Ministry with Prisoners & Families: The Way Forward, Madeline McClenny-Sadler writes

“What would the apostle Paul do if he heard about the mistreatment of brothers and sisters who return to our congregations and communities after being released from prison? I think we know exactly what Paul would do. Paul would write a letter!” (140)

Thus, McClenny-Sadler offers a “Letter to African American Churches Concerning the Saints Coming Home from Prison.” It uses “the hybrid style of a Pauline epistle and a scholarly article” as a call to action (ibid.)

Inspired by her letter, several PrisonLectionary.net contributors take up the same task. The first comes to us from “EB .”

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Holy Saturday

by Matthew B. Harper

Job 14:14 – If Mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

I live less than a hundred yards from Virginia’s Death Chamber. Death row is at another prison, but inmates are transferred here in a special van few days before their execution and we can see when it is parked outside the fence.

Tonight, over two thousand years ago, the Apostles locked themselves into an upper room and were in despair. Their leader and friend had just been brutally murdered and they had no anticipation of the resurrection. They probably sat and prayed, they may have hoped, they may have despaired.

Every time there is an execution here the chaplain is on call to minister to the condemned man in his last few hours. It is by far the most demanding job he has ever had in his decades of ministry. The night of an execution we are all on a modified lockdown status, and there is always a group of the believers who sit in their individual cells and pray. We pray for forgiveness for this man, for his faith, for the families of his victims, and for his family.

Ultimately, like Job, we do not know what happens after our death. But unlike those disciples of years ago we do know about the resurrection. We know what happened on Easter morning. I condemn the murder of murderers, I think it speaks to the depravity of our society, but I find strength in the word of the holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel: “We are the ones horrible enough to make a gas chamber, and also capable of walking into it with prayers and praise upon our lips.”

O God, creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with Him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP 170