Psalm 23 on Death Row

Death Row.NewImage

Lent is a time when we are reminded to soberly “number our days”. It’s a metaphor of course. An encouragement to carpe diem, to make the most out of this thing we call life.

But what if we really could count our days?

A friend recently spent several days in Angola, Louisiana State Penitentiary. He met with Angloa’s remarkable warden, Burl Cain, who discussed his philosophy of being a Christian in charge of a 5,000 prisoner unit in which 90% will die behind bars.

Then my friend met with one of the many who are waiting to die. Christopher Sepulvado.

The execution of Mr. Sepulvado was scheduled for Ash Wednesday. Without much family or visitors on the docket, my friend assumed he would be one of the last vists Sepulvado had. They sat in a narrowed barred room across the table from one another. Sepulvado, cuffed and chained at his ankles and wrists.

My friend sat calmly with disgusted rage boiling on the inside. Sepulvado had scalded his young son to death. Holding the toddler down in boiling water until the child “stopped screaming.”

“Yes,” he thought. This is why we have capital punishment. To make it clear people can’t escape their punishment from their horrific deeds.

But Sepulvado began talking about the blessing of Angola. It was there, on death row, he said, that he understood there was another prisoner from long ago who loved him. Sepulvado pitched forward in his chair struggling to open his Bible with one hand – but he couldn’t manage to get to the place he wanted. So instead of reading Psalm 23, Sepulvado began to recite it from memory.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul… On and on, Sepulvado kept reading to the last verse…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

“How many days would that be? What does he have left?” My friend tried to count. Fifteen? Or is it fourteen?

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever…

Sepulvado stopped. “This is what I’ve been taught here. God knows me.”

“Teach us to number our days Lord.” That’s a pretty big prayer to pray it seems to me.

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