Letters From Golgotha, Pt 3

Roman Centurion

It was a Roman Centurion standing at the foot of the cross who finally realized who Jesus is: the Son of God.

The following is a”letter” inspired by the experiences of an eyewitness to the crucifixion. It is excerpted from a sermon entitled “Letters From Golgotha,” which I presented in August 2010.

Lucius, centurion in the service of His Excellency, Caesar.

To my beloved wife,

My dearest, I have seen something most astounding today. This morning, as happens every so often, I was called upon to command an execution squad. Ordinarily, this is a trivial matter. To preserve order in the Empire, we must uphold the unshakable foundation of authority through the swift and decisive execution of justice. And the most effective way to make certain that no one challenges these things is to make a show of those who would stand against us.

Truth be told, though it is certainly not as glamorous as conquering barbarians, commanding the execution squad does have at least two benefits. The first is that executioners get to divide the prisoners’ minor effects. Usually, there isn’t much more than a few strips of linen and whatever we seized from them when they were arrested. Today, though, I picked up a rather nice dagger from one of the men. I may use it for a boot knife when we return to the front lines. And the second benefit of commanding the execution squad is that we get to exercise our skills as soldiers. In fact, while it may not be quite like the gladiators in the colliseums, many of us like to think of the whole thing as our own miniature sport.

Today, though, was different. We were given charge of three men, two of which we knew were guilty of insurrection even if the only charge we could confirm was that they had stolen a couple of swords from some of the men that they ambushed. But the third man was unlike anyone I had ever met.

I suppose I should have known something was different when the governor actually tried to set him free. The people back home would enjoy Pilate, my love. He is joyfully gruesome, but I heard the other day that he was actually reprimanded by the emperor for going too far. Perhaps that’s why he hesitated to crucify this third man, but I think there was more.

You see, as strange as it may sound, as we drove the stakes into that man’s arms and legs this morning, he made no sound whatsoever. Now, I have heard the cries and seen the wonderful agony enough to know that it must have hurt. But still, he was silent.

Then there was the unusually large crowd. I heard that the man’s name was Jesus, and he was some sort of teacher or false prophet from up north, but I had thought that Jesus was popular with these Jews. Today, the Jews were merciless in their glares and abuse. In fact, even their priests were out there joining in and spitting on him. And still, he never said a word.

About noon, as the men were breaking out their lunches, something most extraordinary happened. The sun went dark. Now, I have heard of these eclipse things happening before. And I know that ancients considered them bad omens or something, but as you know, I don’t put much stock in superstition. Today, though, the darkness was, in a word, palpable. It was as though a sudden and inescapable chill – like the ones I’ve felt physically during the third and fourth watch on the front – descended upon my soul.

And then, as though that wasn’t enough, there was an earthquake. Now, understand that earthquakes aren’t particularly uncommon in this part of the world. I remember a few tremors during my time in Asia. But this one… I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was as though the earth was shaken to its very core, as though the whole world was shuddering at the horrific prospect of that man on the cross.

And maybe that was the strangest thing. I had this unmistakable sense that it was all about that third man, the one who didn’t say anything!

All I can say is that I have never been so glad to see the sun as I was when it reappeared at about 3 this afternoon. But then the strangest thing of all happened. This Jesus character shouted. Well, probably, it would be more accurate to say that he wailed or cried out. Some of the people thought he was calling on Elijah, who I guess is one of the Jews’ prophets or something, but I actually heard what he said. He cried out, his voice absolutely broken, but strangely not even remotely desperate, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then he died.

Now, my darling, you need to understand something. People don’t die within six hours of being crucified. That’s part of what makes it such a tremendously effective tool for keeping order. They suffer, usually for two or three or even four days. In excruciating pain. And then they pass out, but they still hang there for several hours more. At the very least, they don’t have the strength to cry out as this man did!

No, there was something most astounding about that man, and I have to tell you, I can come to only one conclusion. A lot of the Jews had thought he was to be their messiah. A few even concluded that he was far more than a mere man. And I have to admit today that I think these people are right. The darkness, the earthquake, the shout… it was as though the Jews’ god himself was mourning this man’s death. Truly, I think this man was the Son of God.

Anyway, tomorrow, we will be patrolling the area surrounding the Jews’ temple. You should see that place, my love. I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things in the service of the Empire, but that complex is spectacular. Next week, my unit will be guarding the Praetorium, where the governor stays when he is in Jerusalem. I doubt he will still be in town, though. When I spoke with a centurion from his personal guard, it sounded like the governor was eager to leave this backwater and return to Caesarea.

There’s a rumor we may be headed back to the front in a few weeks until reinforcements arrive from Rome, and then we may be home sometime in the fall. I cannot wait to see you again, my dear.

Greet the children.

I will see you soon.


2 Responses to “Letters From Golgotha, Pt 3”

  1. 1 lowtec40 June 17, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Great posting. I writing to obtain permission to use your image of the centurion on my own, not yet published, blog site. It is the most accurate one I have seen. One of my goals with my blog is to demonstrate that the Gospel was spread through believers in the Roman Army during the 1st thru 3rd centuries. I’m pretty tired of seeing depictions of centurions as some kind of Roman Senator. The one you depicted on your site is from the 14th Gemina Martia Victrix Legon. During the time of Christ they were actually stationed in Britain.
    Thanks for your consideration and I really enjoyed the Golgotha postings.
    Steve Gamache

  2. 2 jgeerdes June 17, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Steve, I would gladly grant permission if it was mine to give. I originally obtained the image from here: http://www.legion-fourteen.com/romans.htm

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