(EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows is a sermon for December 21st, the longest night of the year. On this night many churches have a “Longest Night” service for those who are struggling to find joy this Christmas, often due to grief. This sermon was shared at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Richmond Virginia, in 2017.)
“The Longest Night”
A Sermon by Matthew B. Harper
The longest night of the year. A time when darkness comes early and stays late, when night feels unexpected and interminable. Tonight we gather to acknowledge that darkness, and to dwell in it quietly; we know it exists, and it’s okay that it does. “Merry Christmas” may not feel all that ‘Merry,’ but it is Christmas and we know the light of dawn is just over the horizon.
Blood, Sweat and Tears,
constant heckling and nasty jeers.
Wrongfully convicted by a jury of
When He gave up the ghost,
A soldier blatantly chose
To pierce His side with a spear.
That’s the same pain I felt when
the judge handed me sixty
Blood, Sweat and Tears…
“My Most Memorable Christmas in Prison” by CM
The holidays in general, and Christmas in particular, take on special meaning for those of us in prison for a variety of reasons. For the most part, guys are looking forward to receiving a decent mean of turkey and/or ham. Prison staff typically adopts a slightly less confrontational stance and well-meaning volunteers often come in for special events like concerts from church choirs. For some, this season will mark the one time of the year they’ll receive a visit, perhaps some mail; and for others, it’s a time that reminds them just how alone they are because these visits don’t come.
“Orange Crush is in the building!”
Is the call I hear at dawn’s break.
“Awake, awake, tactical is here to take!”
A thousand boots stomping, hundreds of
As they invade the cell house and raid.
One of the lowest experiences in my life is the day that I got found guilty in September of 2002. I had just went through an unjust legal process and just like Jeremiah, all my strength and hope was gone. I wanted to just crawl into a corner and die.
Who would’ve thought that I would still be here fourteen years later, let alone be productive for God’s sake? The verse that rings true the most in my heart is verse 22: “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” Verse 23 goes on to say,”they are new every morning.”
I have faced many more obstacles on this track we call life and there’s one thing for sure, God is always there. When I think about all my troubles and fears and how I thought I would not make it, I realize that God had my back all along.
There’s going to be pain and there’s going to be anguish during the course of your life; but you don’t have to go through it alone. Trusting, hoping, and faithfully waiting on the LORD will get you through those hard times. If God call allow me to flourish behind concrete walls and steel bars, he can do wonders for you.
Thank you, heavenly father, your everlasting mercy and compassions are upon me daily. Please allow me to use them to bring about the praise and glory that you deserve. Amen.
Psalm 71 is one of my very favorite psalms. In fact, there was a time in my life when I recited this psalm three times each night before bed, from memory. To me, this psalm speaks to the plight of not only the prisoner, but anyone who finds themselves ensnared in our criminal justice system. The first five verses alone sum up the majority of my most common prayers as a prisoner.
What person who has ever been at the business end of criminal prosecution cannot relate to verses 9 through 11? I know that whenever I read these verses I cannot help but to visualize the three prosecutors assigned to my case, sitting around a long conference room table like the Bond villains of SPECTRE, saying things to each other like, “This God-forsaken dirtbag! Let’s do whatever we have to do to put him away for as long as we can. Who can stop us?”
Every person serving an extended sentence thinks about and worries about how old he will be when or even if he is ever released. For instance, if I am forced to serve all of my current sentence, I will be over 65 when I am paroled What sort of life will I have left? How will an old used up ex-con ever find gainful employment? Even if I am somehow able to keep myself up to date on the current technologies and the swiftly changing demands of contemporary employers, what sort of physical condition will I be in after so long a period of forced inactivity, eating sub-nutritious foods, under sub par healthcare? Most at that age would be unable to get out of bed and get around to go to work.
What of my other needs? What sort of family support can I expect to still have? Will anyone even still be living? These thoughts are constant stressors that plague the minds of those subjected to long-term incarceration. Countless times I have prayed that the Almighty will not forsake me in my old age when I am grey-headed. Every incarcerated believer knows that our Heavenly Father is our only means of support we can be sure of. Thankfully, He is also the only means of support anyone ever needs.