Barbed wire twisted along the top of the 12-foot fence surrounding the 11-acre campus of the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Although I couldn’t actually see anyone, the sense of someone perched in the guard tower, rifle in hand, watching as I drove into the ominous-looking facility, was almost palpable. After clearing the guard outside, I spoke with the prison chaplain, who offered a Cliff’s Notes version of what to expect on the inside. I was escorted down a long corridor that passed through several massive gates, barred doorways that sent eerie chills rippling down my spine as they creaked open, then closed behind me. The truth is, I still shudder today at the sound of metal hitting metal. At first, my instinct was to just forget this visit, make up a valid-sounding excuse and leave Huntsville in my rearview mirror as quickly as possible. But, that, I could not do. I had promised to see someone and have a spiritual conversation before his date with the executioner arrived.
Convicted of killing a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery, this man (Let’s call him Bob) was sentenced to die by lethal injection. I was his sister’s pastor.
Not only is death row a ghastly place to spend your last days on earth, but, as Bob told me, it is also terribly lonely. Separated by a thick glass wall, we talked for about 20 minutes or so. Bob assured me of his having repented of sin and placing faith in Jesus. He was secure in the relationship he shared with him. The chaplain had told me that everybody finds Jesus in prison, but Bob’s manner, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice exuded a genuine sincerity that left me feeling confident in going home with a good report for his grieving sister.
To this day, 30 years or so later, I still reflect on that day, remembering well the musty odors, darkened walls, and hollow sounds of a death row prison. And, of course, I think of Bob, the man I was asked to share Jesus with while he waited his turn to die. In fact, those memories came flooding back this past Sunday as the pastor’s message turned our attention to the “Lord’s (Last) Supper.” Sitting there listening, I wondered how agonizing it must have been for Jesus who, in the closing hours with his disciples, would hear them squabble over who would be the greatest as opposed to embracing their Lord who had just told them he was going to die for them. Although he had explained the significance of the bread and the wine, they just didn’t get it. I wonder, do we?
When you come to the Lord’s table to receive the bread and the wine, do you come in heart-wrenching gratitude, realizing what those two elements represent?
Not too long after our meeting, Bob was put to death for the crimes he was found guilty of. Jesus, on the other hand, faced execution, having been found guilty of love and nothing else. Have you embraced God’s great love for you today? You can.