Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 book Dead Man Walking, adapted into a 1995 film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, tells the story of her work with two convicted killers on death row. She finds empathy for these men as they relate their lives to her. In the film, Sister Helen, played by Sarandon, says to convicted killer Matthew Poncelet, played by Penn, after he mournfully confesses his wicked deed, “Oh Matt, there are spaces of sorrow that only God can touch. You did a terrible thing Matt, a terrible thing. But you have dignity now and no one can take that from you. You are a son of God, Matthew Poncelet.”  

God has touched our spaces of sorrow. 

Jesus speaks of his death as the hour of his glorification. He announces that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. A seemingly cryptic statement in hindsight is a clear reference to the cross. He chooses a way of empathy with humanity that identifies with its deepest sorrow. The incarnate God takes the place of the dead man walking. Identifying with the criminal, the convicted, and the condemned, he makes his glory known. The king of heaven’s glory is found in the sorrowful space of the executioner’s awful tool meant for us. 


Can there truly be glory in shame? What shame did Jesus take on for you so that you may now look to the one lifted up and only see God’s glory? 


Lord, our shame was taken up in your hour of glory. Your advocacy for us extended beyond an empathetic ear. You entered into our sorrow, into the darkest rooms of our souls. You swept the shameful deeds from the hard-to-reach corners of our hearts and minds by exalting yourself upon the tree meant for us. Thank you for freeing us from the sentence of death given to us. You became the dead man walking to free us from the shackles of our sin. Amen. 

The Art

The art in our title image is a detail of Josefa de Óbidos (1630-1684) painting The Sacrificial Lamb. To see the entire image or download, see Wikimedia Commons.

<i>The Sacrificial Lamb</i> by Josefa de Óbidos

TPW's Holy Week Meditation Series

Join us this Holy Week as Scott Bullock leads us through thoughtful meditations every day, perfect for busy pastors (and others!) seeking a moment of calm and to focus on our Lord. A new meditation will be posted on the TPW blog every day—and if you wish, you can download a copy of the whole series below.

Scott Bullock is a Board Member and Contributor with The Pastors Workshop. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in Illinois, New Jersey, and California. He holds an MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Scott is married with three teen-aged children.

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