Easter Sunday

by Matthew B. Harper

Mark 16:6 – But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that without Easter all our hopes are in vain. I agree. Easter is the undeniable declaration that God is in command, and God is triumphant over the forces of the world that will steal, kill, and destroy. Whatever evil you know, whatever sins you are responsible for, whatever it is that you struggle with, God is over it all.

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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

Thursday, Third Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Mark 6:37 – But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

On Easter Sunday in 2003 I decided I would cook food for anybody in my housing pod who would eat. Prison food here is much better than most, but it is possible to combine different foods from the canteen to cook up something special. With plenty of advance planning I saved some money and assembled quite a spread. I had some friends in the kitchen acquire vegetables and spices; from the canteen I got some of every good food offered. They served boiled eggs for breakfast that morning, and we brought dozens back to the building. My mom taught me how to cook, and my friends were looking forward to it this feast.

But things in prison are never that easy. Some of my friends don’t like some of my other friends. Everybody wanted some of the food, but some insisted on eating at separate tables, away from each other. I grieved over this, but agreed. I wanted to do this for them. When it came time to cook and prepare the food we had ten men show up to my cell to help cook. We had guys from all over showing up with cold sodas to drink and cookies for desert. One of my kitchen connections refused to let me pay them for the vegetables. We fed over twenty men, and most of the ones who didn’t help cook, helped clean. It was Easter, and it was good. Most of my cooking helpers were Christians and we prayed over the food as we fixed it. Our prayers were answered.

Some say Jesus feeding 5000 men is a miracle; others say that all he did was convince the crowd to share. To me that is a miracle either way.

That it may please thee so to rule the hearts of thy servants, this nation, and all in authority, that they may do justice, and love mercy, and walk in the ways of truth, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 150