With the scheduled — and now postponed — executions of Kelly Gissendaner and Brian Keith Terrell in the headlines this Lenten season, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people who support state-sponsored killing are participating in the ages-old Christian ritual of “giving up something for Lent” that amounts to forgoing sweets, or fast food, or caramel-flavored lattes.
I wonder this because that Lenten practice, while well-intentioned, is supposed to feel like a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be part of a time when we renew our focus on God. So the irony of the state executing people during Lent doesn’t escape me; in fact, it haunts me. It haunts me because the end of Lent is Easter, which includes Good Friday, a solemn observance of the day Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice — indeed, at the hands of the state — in order to wash away our sins.
One way of looking at Calvary is that in its own way, it should have been the last state-sponsored execution. Ever. So every time we allow the state to execute someone in our names, we make a mockery of that. We set aside the Good News for the Old Testament of laws that Jesus told us he came to fulfill. And then he gave us a new command: Love one another.
But that new command doesn’t mean much if we can’t apply it in the most trying circumstances. Not executing a convicted killer is just such a circumstance. We should try it sometime, and there’s no better time than Lent.