A Christian Abolitionist’s Perspective on Good Friday and Easter

It was two years ago this April that I was in Arkansas with Death Penalty Action, working on our first major campaign which was to expose the crisis of the State’s attempt to execute eight death row prisoners in the span of 10 days. I wrote about this experience of witnessing the mix of darkness and horror, and lightness and hope. My reflection,“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming,” connects what transpired in Arkansas around its death penalty fervor to the mirrored story of Christ’s execution (observed by Christians on a Friday), and of his resurrection (observed on the following Easter Sunday).

The story of Christ’s execution at the hands of the Government is a story we remember this weekend. While not a convicted murderer, Jesus was still convicted none-the-less, for his “crime” of upsetting the powers-that-be through his life, his teachings, and his prophecy. And as we know, ultimately executed by means of crucifixion.

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A cross sits atop the Texas death house during an execution. Photo by Scott Langley

Our observance of Good Friday in the Christian tradition is a call to remembrance. But not only that, it is also a call to action. The action being that Jesus died so that we may live. And what kind of life are we called to live? The scriptures tell us that God, through Christ’s life and death, has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us (Corinthians 2, Chapter 5, verses 18–19). Reconciliation means forgiveness, and forgiveness means a path without retribution, hatred, or more executions.

We may think of crucifixion as a relic of the past — a horror in the dust bins of history never to be seen again — but the reality of today is that killing at the hands of the State is still happening, albeit in a different form.

The beauty of the Easter story is that for the days following the cloud of darkness that was Jesus’s execution, we hold hope for a resurrection. We hope that the sun will shine, life will be abundant, that violence will end and that the modern-day gallows and gurneys will fall by the wayside.

Just as with our experiences in Arkansas last year, where there were signs of life and hope in the reconciliation that we witnessed, there are signs of hope all around us today. Commutation and clemency victories in death penalty laden states like Texas and Ohio remind us that we are continually moving forward. We cannot deny that there is light amidst the darkness that we face — even as states move forward with executions, and the government threatens expansion. The story of death and resurrection is as alive today as it was over 2,000 years ago. We hold vigil to that hope that this resurrection promises.

This Easter season is a time to reflect on the losses before us, but also to lift our heads high and recommit to the struggle against state killing. As Christians we are called to do no less.

Scott Langley is co-director of Death Penalty Action, a volunteer leader with Amnesty International USA, and the son of a Methodist clergy member. You can view his photography project that documents the death penalty at www.deathpenaltyphoto.org

Read a Passover reflection by Scott’s Co-Director at Death Penalty Action, Abe Bonowitz.

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Death Penalty Action provides high visibility resources, leadership and support in order to stop executions.

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