Episcopal News Service describes the ministry of prison chaplains and how the story and images of Holy Week speak to those incarcerated in the nation’s prisons.
Holy Week’s Gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest, imprisonment, trial and execution and the Easter triumph of his resurrection resonate with inmates who can relate the stories to their own experiences, say Episcopal prison ministers. About 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States according to the Justice Department.
“The story of Holy Week is full of pain and fear and betrayal and anguish, and most of us would probably rather skip that part of the story and move right from the Liturgy of the Palms to the celebration at Easter,” said the Rev. Betsy Roadman, who pastors the Episcopal congregation and leads Protestant worship services each Monday at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York state’s maximum-security women’s prison. “My experience of these women … is that they fully engage in the story of the events of Holy Week because they have lived it and are living it in ways that most of us on the outside will never understand. For them, because Jesus lived what they’ve lived … there is no part of their lives that God doesn’t understand and no part of their suffering that God through Christ has not shared.
“That makes a very profound impact on them during Holy Week,” she said. “The women’s experience of Jesus’ suffering with them seems to give them the courage and power and strength to live even in prison as Jesus lived and taught, and that means for them sharing generously with each other and forgiving each other graciously and loving and praying for both their neighbors and their enemies.”
Roadman plans and conducts services with Deacon Ann Douglas of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cornwall, New York, and Douglas’ husband, Dwight, a trained musician. The April 18 worship at Bedford Hills was scheduled to use Palm Sunday’s lectionary.. Worshipers would begin with a procession with palms while singing “Ride on, Ride on in Majesty,” then do a congregational reading of the Passion, followed by the Eucharist and an a cappella rendition of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”