A SERMON ABOUT REDEMPTION

SWEENEY EXECUTION SET FOR FRIDAY AT NOON.

LUKE 23: 44-24: 2 MAUNDY THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2019

 

Imagine with me. No, tonight I ask you to do more than just imagine. I ask you to BE there with me and feel what it must feel like.

You are in a small cell. Just down the hall is the execution chamber.  You are totally alone. There is a clock on the wall opposite your cell. As hard as you try to can’t help but look at it. Those are the final minutes of your life ticking away.

It has been a very busy morning.  You tried to sleep, but it was fitful and you woke regularly in a terror that this was all real and not a dream.  Your court appointed lawyer came to tell you that the Supreme Court had refused to hear the case. The Governor had refused the plea for clemency.  He tells you that he has made arrangements for your burial. Though he was probably not the sharpest lawyer, Mr. Joseph had tried hard and you thank him as you say goodbye.

Most of the guards have been business like and free of any outward emotion. It’s just a job for them. There are a few who seemed to smirk at you. As the barber shaved your head the guard with him looked delighted to have a part in your nightmare.

Now you wait.  You reflect on the crime that put you here. You were guilty as charged. There is no sense denying it now. Your hands shake. The sweat is rolling down your face. You can’t sit still.  At this point you just wish it was over.

You hear the footsteps in the hallway. The warden is accompanied by two of the guards who seem happy to have volunteered for this job. They handcuff you and manacle your feet. Then they lead you on the short walk to the door that will be the last one you ever walk through.  The room is brightly lit. And there it is. The chair; so prominent in the other- wise empty room. The guards push you into the chair and remove the shackles. They begin to tighten the leather straps on your arms, legs, lap and chest.

A curtain is drawn revealing a room full of people who will witness the execution. Most of them are happy to see you die. You can see the hatred in their eyes.  Humiliation is added to the dread of the pain that will soon take your life. The warden is speaking.  You can’t make out what he is saying because your heart is beating so strongly and loudly in terror. You are breathing deeply and quickly. You assume he is asking if you have any last words. But your mouth is so dry you can’t free your tongue to speak.  You say nothing. The guards place a wet sponge on your head. They attached the electrode to your ankle and the skull cap to your head. You see the warden look at the clock. This is it. Your life will end in judgment for your crime.

Then, just before they place the hood over your face, a man walks through the same door that you just came through moments ago. He is tall and strong looking. You have no idea how he got in here. He is talking with the warden. Then they are joined in the conversation by the Governor and the Chief Justice. What are they talking about? You are afraid to even hope that some miracle has occurred. The wait is added torture. Why don’t they just get this over with?

But then the guards are called over. They return to the chair and remove the electrodes and undo the straps. They help you stand because you are weak in the knees. No one says a word until one of the guards tells you to stand over there and watch. They push the tall man into the chair and fasten him down. They back away and at a signal from the warden the switch is thrown. His body strains against the straps and shudders. It is only a minute, but it feels like an hour. When the current is stopped, he slumps in the chair. But they throw the switch again and he bolts upward; obviously not dead yet. You can smell the burning of flesh. When they stop the second time, the doctor examines him and declares, “This innocent man is dead.”

The guards take you out of the room and down a different hallway. They put you in a cell alone. They seem disappointed that they didn’t get to see you fry. Now alone you begin to weep. Was it relief or confusion or guilt? Or was it all of these? You try to sleep, but sleep escapes you.

You wake Saturday morning. They bring you breakfast. You have no appetite.   You feel nauseous. You can’t stop thinking about that man who took your place. You can’t get the smell out of your nostrils.  You stare straight ahead. Time stands still. You are alone and filled with almost as much fear as you had yesterday. Sometime in the afternoon you fall asleep exhausted. The nightmares haunt your sleep but you do not awaken.

You wake up before dawn. It is still pitch black in your cell. There are no windows and the lights have not been turned on. You see the tray of dinner that they must have brought last night untouched. It takes a moment to reconnect with reality. Why are you still alive? Why is he dead?

But then you see a very bright light in the hallway. It does not seem to be coming from the florescent light fixtures. It is clean white light. You hear footsteps; this time just one set. Then he is standing in front of you. He is alive. You are sure it must be a dream. You saw him die. He had the burn marks still on his head and on his ankle. But he was alive and well. You stammer, “How?  Why?” But he just smiles and then you hear the cell keys turning and the prison door opens.