David Walker - Good Friday 2016
Greetings. My name’s Longinus, and I was there. It’s been twenty five years now. They say you never forget your first crucifixion, and it’s true, but this is the one I remember. My last. I remember it as if it were happening right now, all over again. It’s become a part of me, a part that’s lived with me, and changed who I am.
Let me tell you what happened. I have to speak about it. Because I want people to know the truth, to know what I know.
I was a centurion. From Cappadocia. Battle hardened, a veteran. I had fought hard, worked my way through the ranks. A lot of those in my position got there through who they knew, their families and so forth but I earned it. And I was good at it. I was with Tiberius’ army in Germany. It was easy for us. We were all so good at it, and we worked for each other.
And then we went soft, things were too easy. I finished up in Judea, the pits of the empire.
Anyway, back to then. We were stationed on the coast, well away from the Jews. Well away from their strange customs and ideas. Pontius Pilate was our man. Not to be trusted. A coward. You could never get a decision out of him. I met him a couple of times – well, I was in the same room as him – he didn’t mix with the likes of us. Shifty eyes, always looking around him, checking what others were doing, thinking. Let’s face it, Judea wasn’t exactly a plum job. Good climate, nice weather, but he had the Jews to deal with.
Every year we had the problem of the Passover feast. All the Jews would travel to Jerusalem. All the trouble makers. All those who were stirring up revolt and plots. All those messiahs. Where did they all come from? How many messiahs could there be? Except they weren’t. Messiahs, that is. They weren’t messiahs. I didn’t understand then, but I do now, now that I’ve seen the true Messiah, and now that I know him and live in him and through him. But I’m jumping ahead.
As I was saying, we were on the coast at Caeserea Phillipi, and although a soldier’s life is never easy this was about as easy as it ever gets. A good billet, and being a Centurion has certain privileges.
I wasn’t looking forward to being in Jerusalem. After the coast it’s always hot and sweaty, and smelly too with all those people jammed in together, especially at the Passover.
We got there and it felt different. It’s always edgy, but this was something else. There was a buzz about the crowds that I hadn’t felt before. Most of that week we were deployed on the edge of the city. But we heard the rumours. About Jesus, that is. Coming into the city on an ass. Crowds waving palms. Cheering. Good humoured. And then the Temple. I still don’t know what happened that day. He certainly stirred them up, upset the powers that be. I’ve always thought that that was why he had to die. Did he do it deliberately? I think so, but those around him never really understood. It’s taken me twenty five years and there’s still a lot I don’t understand. Are we meant to? Understand. That is.
Anyway, it seemed remote. But it was building. To something else. Something that we hadn’t seen before. A new thing. A new experience.
And then I got the call. Send your men over to a garden called Gethsemane and arrest the man. Which man? The one who is greeted with a kiss. I didn’t go myself. I sent my men, my best men as it happened. They arrested the man. It was Jesus. And they took him to the High priest.
That should have been the end of it. The Jews had all the powers they needed to deal with it. They’d done it before. It wasn’t a Roman matter. He wasn’t a threat to us. Was he?
But for some reason they didn’t deal with it. They didn’t just flog him and send him on his way. They didn’t just stone him to death. They could have. No, the High Priest passed him over to Pilate.
Pilate. Not the man for a crisis. In fact, he’d do anything to avoid one. But, deep down, he was a Roman. And we were masters of the world. Still are.
From there, you could say it escalated. Got out of hand. Pilate tried to slow it down. Tried to free him. Tried to give him a chance, to find out the truth. But, does truth matter in this kind of situation.
Jesus was condemned. Someone must have wanted him dead. And not just dead, but humiliated. There’s no way back from crucifixion. Or there wasn’t.
So it’s crucifixion, with two others, two thieves, but more than that, two murderers, very dangerous, very desperate people. Now they were a threat. And who’s on the rota for the crucifixion, but me, your humble servant Longinus, faithful centurion and citizen of Rome.
I don’t remember much until we got to Golgotha, a rubbish tip. Disgusting place. The three of them had carried their crosses through the city. They tell me that Jesus had some help but, to be honest, I can’t recall that. I just remember laying him out on his cross, binding him and then the nailing. Usually I left this to my men but for some reason I did this one. I drove the jagged nails into his feet, into his hands, through the flesh and the bone. I could see he was already badly beaten. There was pain in his eyes, and even more pain as each of the nails pierced him. But he looked directly at me and I saw something I’d never seen before. I felt it inside it. Me. A veteran. I’d been here hundreds of times before. And not just here – in Spain, Germanicus, Rome itself.
He looked straight at me. As I pierced him his eyes pierced me. And yet I don’t remember his face, those eyes. The eyes. What colour were they? I struggle now to bring his face into my mind. I want to see it. I need to see it. But I see lots of faces. I see lots of suffering. And I see that other thing.
We lifted up the cross. I can still hear the women crying and screaming but he was calm. And then we sat back to wait. Sometimes it took days.
To tell the truth it was meant to, days of slow suffocation until the flesh could stand no more. And then we would leave them to the crows and the ravens.
But Jesus wasn’t like that. He spoke. And he didn’t just shout out in anger. I don’t know what he said. I don’t speak their language. But I understood. His concern was for those around him, for his family and his friends, and he was talking to someone about it, pleading not for himself but for them, for the two beside him and then, and this is when I realised , when I began to understand, for me. He was forgiving me for what I had done to him, for all the things I had done. I felt a weight lifted off me. I felt light, alive. Amid this scene of devastation, of ultimate human suffering, of pain, of imminent death, I knew that God was with me, God was blessing me, God was saving me. And it was all because of the man Jesus up there in front of me on the cross. All this suffering, this was all for me. I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. I couldn’t do anything ever to deserve it.
The end came quickly. Some of my men gave him sour wine and then he said, and this time I could understand, ‘It is finished’. He gave up his spirit and left us.
He had emptied himself for those around him, for all of us, for me, and for you. And now I was left at the foot of his cross. I looked at those who were left. And we knew. It was our turn, my turn. To empty myself, to give him all that I had, all that I was, and all that I could be. So, that’s what I did.