Undisputed Facts: A Good Friday Meditation


 John 18:1-19:42  (Please see this note on reading this text on Good Friday)

The facts are not in dispute.

By late 2015, Kelly Renee Gissendaner
had spent more than a decade–and close to two–on death row.

In 1998, Kelly persuaded her boyfriend to kill her husband.
The boyfriend confessed.
He described Kelly’s role in the murder plot.
Kelly went to trial.
She was convicted and sentenced to die.

You would think that would be the end of the story.

But it was not.

In the years that followed, Kelly changed her life.

She found solace in her faith
She worked on repenting.
She studied the scriptures.
She asked God, her husband’s family, the world,
For forgiveness.

In 2010, while an inmate at Metro State Prison, near Atlanta, Kelly
enrolled in a theological studies program through a consortium of local

It was there there that she read the work of Jurgen Moltmann

A German theologian who writes about the hope of the Gospel in a world that often is a force against hope,
Moltmann was the sort of fellow traveler that Kelly had been looking for.

Moltmann, too, had been a prisoner–
As a German Soldier, he had been a prisoner of war in WWII.
In his more autobiographical work,
he writes about the experience of
reading the Bible while in prison.
As someone who served in the German Army during the brutal rule of Hitler,
he—like Kelly—had his share of regrets.

When she found out that her professor, Jennifer McBride, knew Moltmann personally, Kelly asked if she might write him.

They became pen pals—writing about their faith, discussing The BIG Questions, becoming friends.

“Peace with you,” Moltmann would begin his letters.
And he would include a reminder, from time to time:

“Remember—theology is to love God with your mind.”

Kelly would send her own writings–reflections on forgiveness and atonement, on what it meant to be reconciled to those you hurt, on the grace of God.

She took her academic work to heart, becoming a sort of mentor and unofficial chaplain to other women locked up with her.

And then, in October 2011, while Moltmann was visiting Emory for a lecture series, The theologian came to Kelly.

He spoke at a ceremony where participants in the theology behind bars program received certificates. and
After the ceremony, he had time with Kelly and Jennifer.
They spoke of the things they had in common. They shared stories. They prayed.

The years passed.

Appeals were lost.
There were protests.
Television Interviews.
Letters from Moltmann.
A Letter from Pope Francis

There had been a murder–a terrible crime.

The facts are not in dispute here.

So clemency was denied.

And so

On an early morning, Kelly died at the hands
of the state of Georgia.

Before she died, Kelly asked her husband’s family for forgiveness.
She apologized. She repented.

And she died singing “Amazing Grace.”

The facts are not in dispute.

In the shadow of this cross,

What is it that we believe
we see

What words do we repeat?
What ritual do we rehearse

For while facts, while the ways this story we come to remember, may not be in dispute,
We still have questions

That culminate–that sharpen–in a single question:

What death is this tonight?

Is it a unique death, planned as a sacrifice for the rebirth of the world?
An accident of history that was never part of the plan?
Is it the death of one who was innocent? More innocent than anyone?
Is it a death of innocence that we must confront?

Or is it not death, but the defeat of death?

Is that what we say happened 2000 years ago
Is that what we say happens tonight?

Is it too much to ask
to believe
that a woman
A needle put in her arm by the state
singing “Amazing Grace?”
did not only die a year ago,
but also
dies before us

Do we believe
that a boy in a hoodie
a man who swears he can’t breathe
a child with a toy gun in a park
die beside us tonight?

Do we believe that tourists in an airport, chosen at random
Children in the path of a drone’s bombs, that we label “collateral damage”
take in our gaze tonight?

Were they good? Were they innocent, like he was?
Do we ask that question?

And if we do,
What on earth do we mean by that?

Do we insist that
Only perfect martyrs
get to sing “This is my story, This is my song?”

That we ignore a hill full of crucifixions
to fixate on one?

Is that what we were called to do?

Do we insist
That this death tonight
is only a death
of the good
of the innocent?

Do we forget that it was, 2000 years ago,
the powers of Empire
The desire for safety
the mandate for Homeland Security
that erected that hill full of crosses?

Do we forget that
The stations of the cross
weaving their path
bombed out buildings marked by civil war
Subway station and airport desolated by terror
Villages laid barren by drones
The silent industrial tables where
a cocktail of drugs are injected into a criminals arm
are all the products of human fear, desire, and retribution?

Do we forget our own violence, even if it only creeps through our hearts, as we mourn death
before us
beside us
inside us?

What is it that we say happens tonight?
Or are the consequences of the facts
too disputed for us to say anything?

Do we instead walk away
just quickly enough

so that we might not see

so that we might not be seen

mourning them.

mourning him.

Do we walk, our eyes averted

so we might not see

might not know

what this night is about?

Or do we simply
hide away
until morning comes?

There may be some lack in scholarly and other types of depth here, but I’m trying to take the advice of David Henson in this.


One thought on “Undisputed Facts: A Good Friday Meditation

  1. Thank you, Brandon for your Good Friday Meditation. Excellent. On point for our day and time.

    Peace to you, John

    Sent from my iPad



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