Worship material for Prisons Sunday
And can it be?
O for a thousand tongues to sing.
Brother, sister, let me serve you.
To God be the glory
The kingdom of God
Come let us sing of a wonderful love
Old Testament: Jeremiah 29v10-14
Gospel Luke: 7v36-50
Epistle: Ephesians 2v1-10
See Prisons Week publication: www.prisonsweek.org
Restorative Justice (RJ) has its roots in Judaism. 'Shalom' is the Bible's word for salvation - it means justice and peace. There can be no justice without peace and no peace without justice. As Howard Zehr says in his influential book, RJ is a peacemaking response to crime for all those persons affected by it. It is not just one theme among many but a basic core belief which is central to the idea of covenant. It expresses God's fundamental intention for Israel . All the most important themes of the Jewish Scriptures including atonement, salvation, forgiveness and justice have their roots in 'shalom' . It is God's intention that all people should live in physical well-being. Secondly, that God's people should live in harmony with each other and with God. Over and over again, the Jewish Scriptures make it plain that oppression and injustice are contrary to 'shalom'. Thirdly, it carries an ethical dimension. There can be no 'shalom' without the restoration of social, physical, spiritual, and moral justice. It teaches us that 'shalom' is possible only when we care for one another, even in wrongdoing.
Jesus took up the theme in all he said and did. His Gospel is always about the Good News of the Kingdom in which even repentance is seen not so much as conscience, but conversion; not a guilty verdict, but the announcement of forgiveness. Christ frees us from that whole universe of condemnations, debts, courts, punishments, expiation and shame, in order to introduce us to a new world of grace. Not, however, the cheap grace that costs nothing but a grace in which the offender feels the pain and weight of responsibility, and longs to make 'shalom' between offender and victim. It was grace that freed Zacchaeus from his greed, the prostitute from her clients and Matthew from his profession. With the most gracious words and tender gestures, he did something that cold, grey, analytical eyes alone could never do for them. He helped them to know their true value and gave them hope for a better future.
The Good News is just this 'Your sins are forgiven' Not that they will be forgiven but that they are. It simply requires a step of faith into this astonishing world where punishment does not inevitably follow sin, nor vengeance follow an offence or where grace does not follow reparation - but precedes it.
The mercy and grace of Jesus were the means by which they knew themselves to be sinners; but more precisely, forgiven sinners. The love of God is always generous if not extravagant, and can evoke radical changes in the hearts and minds of all so that as the hymn-writer says; ' the vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives'.
A few weeks ago, The Archbishop of York, told a story that had come out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A woman addressed Desmond Tutu to tell him of her son's savage murder. The police officer who had ordered the brutal killing was present sitting shamefacedly listening to the details of what he and his colleagues had done. Then there were a few moments of quiet.
The Chair of the Commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, asked the woman if she had anything to say to the man who had killed her son. She responded, 'I am very full of sorrow. So I am asking you now - come with me to the place where he died, pick up in your hands some of the dust of the place where his body lay, and feel in your world what it is to have lost so much. And then I will ask you one thing more. When you have felt my sadness, I want you to do this. I have so much love, and without my son, that love has nowhere to go. On turning to the policeman she said 'So I am asking you from now on - you be my son, and I will love you in his place.'
Her action illustrates the extravagance of the Gospel. The Church at its best introduces a new dimension as it stands alongside victim and perpetrator. Restorative Justice from a Christian perspective recognises that the dividing line between good and evil cuts through every human being; that we are all sinners in need of grace. The emerging Church is learning new ways of doing justice by building communities where acceptance and reconciliation become second nature and ' Shalom' is restored.