The Common Good

A New Hymn for Lamenting the Death Penalty for Christ the King

Luke’s story of Jesus’ dying on the cross (Luke 23:33-43) is the gospel reading for Christ the King Sunday, Nov. 24. This new hymn lifts from biblical teachings for Christians to care for those in prison and crime victims, oppose the death penalty and work for justice for all.

Jesus on the cross Photo: Lasalus/Shutterstock
Jesus on the cross Photo: Lasalus/Shutterstock

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Lord, When Were You in Prison?
St. Christopher (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus”)

“Lord, when were you in prison?” we’ll ask of you one day;
And when did we go visit you, and listen well, and pray?
And when did we show mercy there (as we need mercy, too)?
As we love those in prison, Lord, we show our love to you!

When you taught love of neighbor, had you heard in your time
Of one who lay beside the road, a victim of a crime?
The neighbor that you said was good brought help and wholeness, too;
May we help those who hurt so much from crimes that others do.
What made you show compassion when others shouted, “Die!”

And why did you reject the words: “An eye deserves an eye”?
How could you say, “Don’t cast your stones unless your life is pure”?
Lord, show us this is righteousness-- to save and to restore.  

Lord, how could you still love us, a people filled with hate,
When you had been condemned to die according to the state?
How could you cry to God, “Forgive! They don’t know what they do”?
Lord, turn us from our vengeful ways, until we love like you!

O Lord, you still are present behind each prison gate;
We pray that we may see you there in those that others hate.
And Lord, when people shout for death to settle evil’s scores,
May we, your church, seek mercy and your justice that endures.

Biblical References: Matthew 25:31-46; Hebrews 13:3; Luke 10:25-37; John 8:2-11: Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 23:34, and Micah 6:8.
Tune: Fred­er­ick C. Mak­er, Bris­tol Tune Book, 1881.
Text: Copyright © 2013 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.  All rights reserved.
Hymn Use Permission:  Churches that support Sojourners have copyright permission to use “Lord, When Were You in Prison?” in their local church. 

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is the author of Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor (Discipleship Resources/Upper Room Books) and Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today’s Worship (Geneva Press); she and her husband, Bruce, serve as the co-pastors of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del., after serving churches in New Jersey for 20 years. A complete list of the 200+ hymns by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, many with peace and justice themes, can be found at


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