Sunday, April 20, 2014

repreive: an Easter reflection

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

A remarkable story emerged out of Iran during Holy Week. Apologies if you have heard some of the details already, but even so I think they bear repeating. A young man, Balal, was due to be executed. Iran executes more people each year than any other nation except China; and of course Iran is a far smaller country. Several years earlier Balal had been involved in a stupid street brawl. He shoved another teenager called Abdollah. In retaliation, Abdollah kicked him. Balal pulled a knife and stabbed the other boy, fatally wounding him. Balal fled the scene but was later arrested.

 It took six years before the courts finished their work but in a country where the death sentence is so frequently used no one was surprised when Balal was sentenced to death. After all, it was not as if there was any doubt that he was the killer and there was no excuse for his crime. According to the law in that country Abdollah's family could have asked that his life be spared, but they did not and so a date was set for his execution by hanging. The day of his death was delayed several times, not because of any continuation of the legal process and hopes that he might be reprieved, but because the date did not suit Abdollah's family. In Iran the family of victim not only has the right to be present at the execution but to take part. Balal was to be hanged; he was to be placed upon a chair with a rope around his neck; and a member of Abdollah's family would be the person who would kick the chair out from under him and end his life. It might sound brutal to us, but in Iran it is unremarkable; it is something that happens literally every day.

Finally there were no more delays and the day he was to die came. Balal's family was there, including his weeping mother; Abdollah's family, of course, was there, among them his parents; and others were there also, officials of the state, as are present at any execution, and onlookers, for in Iran execution is a public affair. The guards shoved him towards the gallows, much as he had shoved his victim on that tragic day years before; the rope was placed around his neck; he was lifted onto the chair; and Abdollah's mother came forward. Balal watched, waiting for her to knock the chair out from under him, to leave him to hang there choking, slowly dying.

But that wasn't what happened. Instead, she slapped his face; and then the mother of the boy he had stabbed, stupidly and for no reason, publicly forgave him. Abdollah's father then came forward and removed the rope from around his neck. Balal had been spared. The two mothers embraced and wept in each others' arms. Why would they not?  One had lost a son; and the other's son had been saved. 

We can only imagine how Balal felt that morning, what it was like to be sentenced to death, to have the day of execution arrive, to be taken to the place where the sentence of death would be carried out, to be placed upon the gallows with the rope upon his neck, to see the executioner walk toward him, only to have the executioner instead of taking his life, telling him that he was forgiven, and instead of killing him, take the rope from his neck? Was he joyful? Overwhelmed? Grateful? All three? We may never know; the reason that the international media picked up the story was because of the dramatic circumstances of how he was spared from dying for the crime he was guilty of; how the grieving parents of his victim chose to be merciful in a country where such mercy in not the norm. Balal most probably will slip back into obscurity, going to prison instead of his grave, and there will be no follow up story.

But I tell this story today because I think there is a parallel to the story of Balal in all our lives. He was guilty of his crime and justly condemned to death according to the laws of his country and literally teetering on the brink of death only to be saved by those his terrible crime had wounded most. And thus it is for all of us, were it not for the empty tomb. Christ by his death has paid the price for our sins; the condemnation we would otherwise justly face has been borne by another, by God whom we offended against in the first place. Instead of death we are offered forgiveness and eternal life.

Every morning when we wake up we should feel as Balal must have felt upon the gallows as the rope was removed from around his neck. Feelings such as joy, gratitude, of being completely overwhelmed should flood us. We have been spared. We have been forgiven. Our condemnation has been set aside. We should feel it especially today, this Easter morning, because for us God has gone much farther than just sparing our lives as Abdollah's parents did for Balal; for us it is as if God has taken the rope from around his neck and placed it around his own instead. Christ has paid for our sins and by his walking free from the tomb assures us that death no longer has any power over us. Today the joy that fills us should be much greater than Balal felt that day on the gallows; for our lives have been spared for eternal life; something that can never be taken away from us as long as we continue to walk in the way of Christ. Amen

(source: Guardian/Irish Times)


  1. A wonderful story and a wonderful lesson. It was new to me. Thank you, Father, and Happy Easter to you and your readers.

  2. Thanks M. Happy Easter to you and yours also.

  3. Oh my. I had not heard this story at all. Your reflection is so true... painfully true. Sharing. Just... wow.

    I hate that my comments tend to be "wow" on your blog, but you have a terrible tendency of making me go speechless.

    Thank you for that.

  4. Thanks Gina. Wows are good :-) Hope you all had a blessed Easter.