*These are the final paragraphs from one my latests…The Execution of God, published by Chalice Press.
Throughout the day, I will travel to the execution chamber in Huntsville. Instead of commemorating Holy Week in a place of worship, I’ve chosen to experience the passion of Jesus in Adam Ward. When the State of Texas places the lethal needle into Ward’s arm, I will be standing outside in defiance. We all know that Ward’s actions aren’t any crazier than the execution we are planning tonight. We think we can teach people not to kill by killing. Who’s more delusional: Ward or us?
Finger after finger shook. I’d never seen fingers move like that. I tried to grab them. The shakes hit my hands. I clenched my fists. Then, the shakes traveled up my arms. I wondered what was going on. Before long, my entire body was shaking. I didn’t know what to do. I needed strength. I didn’t think I had it. Though the robe and stole concealed everything that was going on, I knew I wasn’t well. “God, how am I going to do this?” Though people kept coming up to me to talk, I wasn’t listening much. I couldn’t. I just kept thinking. Adam Ward visited me in those moments. I was overwhelmed. I thought I was going to collapse. Everything was too much. I was coming apart. Then, something pulled me back together. Sacramental ideas started flowing through my mind. I could see the cup poured out. I could see the bread broken. Drawing me nearer, I could feel the presence of God. “I’m ready.” The weather seemed to get slightly clearer. Everything seemed to move out of the way. My brain focused. I thought about all of the people who had been executed in that space. I could see so many faces. I could hear so many voices. I could feel their presence. I prayed. In those moments, I was with God. Looking down at the prison, I knew what I had to do.
Despite my fear
Jesus be near
Oh, despite my fear
Jesus be near
Every step felt like an eternity. Life was happening in slow motion. I didn’t know if I’d ever get there. I never prepared for the struggle of it all. I thought I’d just be able to march down there and do it. It wasn’t that simple. There was so much more to think about than just the placement of my feet. There were so many people who wanted to talk. Though I wasn’t quite sure of what I was saying, I kept talking. I figured it was better to keep talking than actually to deal with my anxiety. The shakes were back. After the clock struck 6, I saw Ward again. God was there too. I lowered my head and started walking. Step by step, I moved toward the line. Though I’d seen that police line at every execution, I knew that it wouldn’t hold me back this time. After I committed that final time, there was never a thought of turning back. This was Holy Week. This was a sacrament. This was the path of Jesus. “I will not turn back.” The executed joined me for those final steps. Even though I walked alone, I could hear their footsteps. I think I even heard one of them say, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The officers seemed to have no idea what was going on. As I approached the police line, I said, “I’m coming across.” Thoughts of Ward being executed rushed back into my brain. The nearest officer shouted, “No you’re not!” I could’ve turned around during those seconds. I could’ve just decided that I’d done enough. I didn’t.
As soon as I got to the jail, I was processed like any other criminal. There were few people there that night. Before I knew it, I was alone. There behind the bars, I started to pray. Once again, Adam Ward visited me. I prayed for those who killed him. I knew that I was one of them. The prayers started to propel my feet around the cell. God gave me visions of all that had transpired. The passion continued. The steps. Pilgrimage propelled me to that line. The encounters. Relationships with the condemned pushed me over that line. The anger. Defiance granted me the courage to refuse to move back over that line. Everything I’d known in my work for abolition culminated in my sacramental act of civil disobedience in front of the prison that night. The cell felt like a place of completion. I was able to rest with God and the executed. I saw their faces. The darkness wouldn’t last much longer. Late that night, I made bail. I hurried to the car and left. When the rising rays of sun met the clouds, I was on the road thinking about the killing of the condemned. Though the night had been long, I knew that that all of the bullshit would soon be over. Executions can’t live forever.
Time was no more.
Behold, I saw God die. I wept. I didn’t know what to do. After they placed the sheet over the body, I turned away. I just wanted to get out of there. Not long after I turned back, I saw the sheet start to rise. God was alive! Death was no more. In a fit of rage, God destroyed the gurney. The damn thing exploded into a million pieces. I heard God say loudly, “It is finished.”