Indeed, there is a part of me that wishes I couldn't tell this story, however I must proclaim there is another that praises God I can. I was there. No, not just one of those who passed by, I was there just as much, probably more, than anyone else was. I was. involved, yeah, I guess you could say that. I've grown old now, my day is near, and still not a day passes that the memories haven't forced me to my knees. I was trained, you see. Trained to enforce. Trained to implement. Trained to follow orders. I suppose everyone has taken an order too far once in their time, enjoying the real evils in life. This is the story of that moment in my history. It's changed my life forever. Yours too.
I can still smell the air that night, it was cold and very crisp. It was late when I was called to come with the Pharisees along with a few other soldiers. This night was a result of weeks, maybe even months, of constant talk and planning. The day had finally come that we were going to seize the man everyone was talking about. I myself wanted nothing to do with him. He has. changed things. For the worse, if you asked me. Son has turned from father, friend has turned from friend, citizen from Caesar, all because of him. I despise anyone who challenges the Roman way of life, I've always believed that, guess there's no reason to change now.
Judas Iscariot led the way to the Mount of Olives. A group of officials from the chief priest, elders, a couple more guards, and myself accompanied him. Caiaphas paid him a measly thirty silver coins to take us to him, he accepted willingly. Sword in hand, I followed the trail created by Judas' lantern. Our hands were occupied as well, most holding torches, or lanterns, some of us with weapons. "He's right up the way. The Garden of Gethsemane. The twelve of us spent night after night listening to him teach here." "Enough. Be silent!" a Pharisees commanded.
I was looking at my breath in the cool air when I heard a voice up ahead. "You are still sleeping," our shuffling about muffled his words. We stopped and stood still. "Arise! Here comes my betrayer." At the very moment our hidden group appeared out of the trees he came out and faced us. Judas approached him and kissed his cheek.
My sword was raised, next to me a club was hanging in mid-air. His so-called disciples were quick to draw their swords in defense.
"Friend, do what you came for. Who is it you want?"
An elder answered, "Jesus of Nazareth."
"I am he." Instantly I felt a rush of wind, more like a wall, hit me square in the face. My feet were swept from beneath me and I fell to the ground. Looking around I saw not one still on his feet beside Jesus and his men. Again he asked, "Who is it you want?" I arose along with the rest of our large group.
"Jesus of Nazareth," the man repeated.
"I told you, I am he." One of the chief elder's servants began to approach Jesus. One of the eleven jumped out and swung his sword. I jumped forward, sword drawn when I saw it fall to the ground. Malchus' right ear had been chopped off! Then Jesus sternly spoke, "Why do you draw your swords to capture me? Have you not listened to me teach in the temple and yet didn't arrest me then?" I withdrew my offensive position and watched as the man whom we've all grown to hate bend over to retrieve the ear. He held out his other hand to calm our forces as he approached Malchus. Ear in hand, he softly touched the side of his head and healed the wound. Jesus commanded his disciples, "Put your swords away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" At this, me and three other soldiers approached him to seize him, this mysterious evil magic worker. That moment each of the eleven apostles fled in every which way. Not one remained.
Bound with rope we took our prisoner to the first location of what was going to be a long night. Caiaphas, the current high priest, was elected by Romans while his father-in-law, Annas, still held the title. Nevertheless, Annas still carried a great deal of weight in the Sanhedrin. Thus, our first stop with Jesus of Nazareth was to take him to Annas who, along with rest of the elders and members of the council, was at the high priest's house.
Caiaphas' estate was the largest I've ever seen owned by a Jew, it was beautiful with an open courtyard sitting in the middle of the large home. Surrounding me in every which way was the building, made up of many rooms and openings. The place was crowded considering the ridiculous hour. In the center of the outdoor courtyard was a fire that most gathered around to keep warm in the cool air. Jesus was taken from the courtyard to talk with Annas, two other guards directed him as I warmed up around the fire. Most of the faces were strangers to me. I was offered a drink and accepted, I noted that a few accepted one too many.
"Finally we have this poser at our will. May he burn in hell for leading astray not only fellow Jews, but even the Gentiles!" one man raised his cup to toast as we burst in laughter. "Here here, here here."
"It's damn cold out tonight. Couldn't we have picked another night to end this fraud's life?" Again laughter poured after my plead for acceptance succeeded, breaking through Roman uniform. The laughter quickly came to a halt when we heard a whip and yelling not too far off where Annas was questioning "his highness." It was then that two men I clearly didn't recognize entered with the servant girl. I got the impression no one really knew who they were. The girl asked one of them after the fire lit his face, "You aren't one of his disciples, are you?"
"I am not." The two men came and joined us to warm up. Minutes passed in mostly silence. Occasionally a comment was thrown in, but most kept to themselves. Probably because we were all tired. Thoughts consumed the time. I walked to the left towards the room Jesus was being questioned.
"I kept nothing a secret," Jesus claimed to Annas as two guards held him. "Why ask me these questions? Why don't you ask those who heard me? They'll know what I said." I sensed the conversation was heating, so I let myself in the room. Rage filled Annas eyes. He was clearly frustrated. Aggravated.
"Enough." He pointed to Jesus as his eyes stared into mine. I took two steps to the prisoner and let my hand fly back, connected right into his unprotected face.
His head turned violently left. Not enough pain on his face. I grabbed his shoulders and leaned him down. My knee met his stomach at full force. He choked and struggled for air. He gathered himself, rolled his head clock-wise. "If I said something, anything, wrong, tell me what it was. But if I spoke only truth, why strike me?" Annas went to him with clenched fists and grinding teeth, shoved him and declared, "Take him to Caiaphas."
I went away to find Caiaphas and call him to question Jesus. After speaking with a servant who promised to relay the message, I returned to the fire. My body was racing, I didn't need the fire, but I did need space. I needed to get away from that man, just the sight of him made my insides cringe. The arrogance, the self-assured attitude he carried, and that calmness that never left his presence made my whole body want to attack. So I took a breath. The same men were standing around the fire as were before. "You are one of them," another accused the mystery man. "Man, I don't know him."
My nerves settled for about an hour. Jesus was still in my sight, standing beside three guards twenty feet to my left, in the corner of the yard. He wore a solemn face and looked tired, weary. Talk continued amongst us. It would grow loud at times, at others silent. Laughter, mostly from mocking the "holy" man in our sights, was common. But we were also serious. Strategy talks were heavy and very confrontational. Every one had there own idea on how to get Jesus crucified before Sabbath, which was less than twenty-four hours away. Roman law prohibited crucifixion by any group beside itself. The Jews had no ground to do so, and though most Jews intensely hated us, they needed our power to accomplish their goals. Caiaphas was near, but that interview would have to wait. One of the high priest's servants, cousin to the man whose ear was cut off, stood and pointed again at that man. "Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," again the man denied it. I'll never forget what happened then. He was sitting across the fire from me and he appeared to look in my direction. He looked deep into me, in fact, so deep I realized that he wasn't looking at me at all. He was looking right past me at Jesus who was now behind me in the distance. I swung my body around and looked into the prisoner's eyes. Not to this day have I seen a face of pure hurt like the one I saw that night. Tears formed in the corners of Jesus' eyes. The reflection of the fire glowed in his wet eyes. The look was unexplainable. It was as if a man came home only to find his family lying dead on the ground. Unbelievable. I looked back at the mystery man and no doubt noticed the lock between the two pairs of eyes.
His head dropped, breaking the connection. He stood and quickly paced out to the exit. I've never seen him again.
Confused looks were traded throughout the courtyard until Caiaphas finally appeared. The man was tall and lanky. He had a determined face, but his eyes looked a bit sluggish, he looked like the sort of man who was thinking countless thoughts at a time. He walked across the dirt floor and stood about a fingers length above Jesus. Caiaphas grabbed his arm and pulled it hard to direct him into the questioning room, Jesus followed me and the other guards. For an hour Caiaphas questioned him. I struck him only twice, but the other two soldiers got a few in.
The sun was rising as we left the room and dragged Jesus into a large assembly room. There waited the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin.
Over a hundred people sat and watched as Caiaphas and other leaders put together the evidence against Jesus. Witnesses came and went, declaring the claims Jesus made throughout his ministry. Accusation after accusation Jesus remained completely silent. He said nothing, denying nothing, agreeing with nothing! The whole room grew in intensity. Shouts rang out towards the man whose left arm I was holding. "Hang him on the cross!" Another yelled, "Look, this king can't even speak!"
Impatiently, the high priest continued with his allegations. "I am charging you under oath by the living God! Tell us if you are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God." Caiaphas was right up against him with his finger pointed directly in his face.
He finally spoke, "Yes. It is as you say. And I say to all of you this: In the future, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
A loud slap echoed off of his face. Caiaphas grabbed his upper garment and violently tore it to the middle of his chest. "He has spoken blasphemy! Must we call another witness? You heard it from his own lips."
The silent crowd erupted. "Crucify!" "Kill him!" "He is worthy of death!" The hundred men stood and yelled out. I let go of his arm and took a large stick from the ground. It connected with his lower back. He bent in pain. The crowd grew louder. Cheering. Again I swung, this time at his stomach. He lost his wind and fell to the ground. Another soldier jumped and landed his large foot into his side. The crowed pushed forward to get closer. A soldier grabbed a piece of cloth and blindfolded the prisoner. Then we took turns hitting him. Some with their fists, others with sticks, and we asked him, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Which one of us hit you?" One man yelled, "God will have his justice on you!" and he spit on Jesus. More began to spit on him. Oddly, he didn't crawl up to protect himself. He remained sprawled out on the floor, breathing heavily and loud. I reached down with all I had, my spit landed right on the red cheek Caiaphas just slapped. Two guards and I dragged him along the floor until he could gain his balance and stumble along. We were taking him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
Pilate was waiting for us outside as we arrived at the palace. Four guards came to relieve me of my duties for a little while. I handed Jesus over to them. First I began to walk away to go lie down, but my interest got the best of me, or maybe it was my hatred. I enjoyed nothing more than watching the wheels of justice turn, especially on an arrogant man such as Jesus. So I stayed and watched the ongoing drama as an outsider. Pilate stood listening to the men from the Sanhedrin accuse Jesus of various things, trying to prove his guilt. I've always respected of Pontius Pilate. At the time, I think I would have been a lot like him if I were in his position. Mean as they come. He was. well, brutal. I've come to view him as a wicked man, always doing the things that bring a smile to his face, no matter how perverse they were. Typical politician. I loved it, and secretly envied him because of his power and authority.
"You have laid before me evidence and witnesses. but what is his crime? Why are you bringing him to me? Take him and judge him by your own laws."
"Sir, we have no right to execute anyone. Governor, he stirs up your people. He's secretly leading a rebellion against Rome. He opposes paying taxes to Caesar and claims to be king!"
Pilate turned to Jesus, "What do you say to all these accusations?"
Pilate was shocked by the response, he started to walk away, hinting for the Jews to leave. "I find no basis for a charge on this man, let him go."
The Jews kept insisting. Not just one of them. All of them. "This man is subverting our nation! He started in Galilee and has come all the way down here!"
Pilate's face lit up. "Jesus is a Galilean? He is under Herod's jurisdiction, take him away from me. Convince Herod. I will have nothing to do with this man from Galilee."
Soldiers took him away from the palace so Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at the time, could question him. I stayed at the palace guarding the entrance. Pilate was giving out orders to prepare for today's Feast. In a few short hours there would be thousands at the palace and as tradition would have it, he would free to them one prisoner. Not many respected Pilate, but they all feared him. His popularity was beginning to grow among all Romans, even with some of the Jews.
Two hours passed until someone came to the gate again. It was them. Hundreds of Jews. and their king, in chains. Their numbers were increasing each moment.
But Rome was prepared! We brought in hundreds of soldiers to tame the crowd for the great Feast. I noticed Jesus had much more blood drying on his body. His flesh looked red, ripe from a recent beating. Cuts on his face were beginning to mar his appearance. Pilate came out and took Jesus from the Jews. He would take it from here. Pilate himself commanded me to lead the prisoner into the palace. The three of us entered an open room, where Pilate told me to be at ease, so I stepped back and stood near the wall.
"Are you the king of the Jews?"
"Is that your own idea, or have you simply repeated what they have told you?"
"You know I am no Jew. It was your people who have handed you over to me, what did you do?"
"My kingdom is not of this world, if it were my servants would be here to prevent my arrest. But it is not so. My kingdom is from another place."
"You are a king then?"
"You are right to say that. Do you not think I could have stopped all of this? For this reason I am here, and for this reason I have come to this earth, to testify truth. If you are on truth's side, you will listen to me."
In all my years of serving my nation I have never seen a governor respond to a chained man with such concern and care, with such an open ear. And of all people, Pontius Pilate! I had to force myself to keep quiet. What was he doing? Why is he listening so openly? Why did he even allow him to speak?
Pilate had heard enough. He went out of the room to stand on the balcony facing the crowd. Hundreds of Jews stood in the front of the crowd. Thousands gathered behind them to hear Pilate speak. He calmed them by raising his hands. Silence. "I have found no reason to crucify this man, Jesus of Nazareth. Neither has Herod. I find no basis for death. I will punish him and then let him go."
Even the room I stood in with Jesus had filled with noise. It was the loudest sound I had ever heard in all my life. Not a word could be understood. Just noise.
Pilate quickly raised his hands again. "However. However, it is a custom that at this Feast I will release to you a prisoner. Do you want me to release to you Jesus, or Barabbus?"
This time the loud noise seemed to somehow unify. What almost seemed to be miraculous, the crowd yelled as one, "Away with this man! Give us Barabbus!"
The words were loud and crisp.
Pilate turned around and entered the room again. He paced five steps to the end of the room, turned around and repeated himself. His head was down and seemed to be in deep thought. It looked to me like he was talking with someone. Himself? Maybe. But I didn't think so. I guess I'll never know who those words he was whispering were directed at, but looking back on it, I think I have a good hunch. For a quarter hour he paced back and forth. The crowd continued to chant, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" The whole scene was completely overwhelming. The noise! To this day I can't even imagine again how it was that moment.
Utterly overwhelming. Rome had never seen a scene quite like it.
At this point, tens of soldiers were gathering throughout the palace, hundreds in the crowd. A group of about fifteen soldiers joined me in the room as Pilate continued his whispering. I held Jesus down as three soldiers at a time would take turns hitting him with their fists. Some chose to strike him with the butt of their swords. Still others spat on him and kneed him in the stomach. One laughed out, "Look, I wonder if this pity of man has even been with a woman. I bet this king, wherever he's from, isn't even. equipped." The smiles on their faces made me realize the amount of hate my grin held. The mocking soldier took a step back and kicked the prisoner between the legs. Jesus fell to the ground. Spit covered his battered body.
Pilate approached the crowd again. "I can find nothing deserving of death in him. I will punish him and release him."
"Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"
I swear to this day, above all the screams I can still hear the high priest's voice raise louder than all the rest. "Crucify him! We want Barabbus."
"Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found no grounds for the death penalty in him."
"You take him and crucify him. I find no basis for a charge against him."
Again, Pilate turned and entered the room. Jesus stood head down in the corner. Pilate resumed his pacing, then stopped in mid stride. The pack of soldiers separated, creating an isle ending with the standing Jesus. "Where do you come from?"
No answer. Jesus just stared into the eyes of the Roman governor.
"You refuse to speak. Don't you know I have the power to free you?" Pilate's voice was raising, full of compassion.
Slowly Jesus found the strength to speak, "You would have no power over me if it weren't given to you from above."
Their interview was over. The noise was still piercing when he turned to face the multitudes. "What shall I do then, with the one who calls himself the king of the Jews?"
"Crucify! Crucify! Kill him!"
"But there is."
Pilate looked down and noticed Caiaphas standing on a platform. "If you release him, you are against Caesar himself."
At that, Pontius Pilate turned and received Jesus from me. He took the weak, frail man and sat down on the judge's seat on the deck. Jesus stood next to him.
"Here is your king. Shall I crucify him?" The crowd was silent when Caiaphas raised his hands and proclaimed, "We have no king but Caesar!" Right then, a servant came to Pilate's side and whispered in his ear. I couldn't hear, but in his eyes I saw a flash of fear. Whatever that servant said to him made him see a ghost. His shoulders slouched as he waved the man off and with a still disturbed face he yelled loudly, "I will release to you Barabbas! As for this man, I am innocent of his blood. It is your responsibility."
"Let his blood be on us and our children!" the crowd roared.
He stood up and walked to a statue with a bowl full of water. He dipped in his hands, washed them, and dried them off. He turned to the group of soldiers,
"Crucify this man."
It is said that from that day on Pontius Pilate washed his hands at least once every day for the rest of his life. He claimed he could literally see the blood of Christ on his hands. No matter how much he washed them, the stain remained. The servant who came to him brought a message from his wife. She was warning him to have nothing to do with that innocent man for she had suffered a great deal in a dream because of him. She did in fact suffer greatly. Pontius Pilate committed suicide soon after.
The Centurion, the official of us soldiers, took control of the sentence after Pilate's command. We led him into the Praetorium, in the palace, and gathered all the soldiers. When a couple hundred were present we began the duty of flogging the convict. A group of soldiers stripped off his clothes to the waist and pushed him to the post. He was forced to a bent over position. The strongest soldier in the bunch, whom we all secretly feared, began the scourging. With a whip made of several leather thongs weighted with pieces of lead and sharp metal at the end of each strip he began to repeatedly strike Jesus over and over. It was not uncommon to see prisoners die from the scourging alone, and quite frankly, at the time I thought such might be the case. Again and again the pieces of metal slapped against his bare back. After a little more than ten strikes the first wound opened, blood splattered. Jesus shrieked a louder noise than I had ever heard come from his mouth. He screamed and his face rose in agony. Blood splashed on the face of the large soldier. The red soaked leather continued to beat against the open flesh of his tender back. After thirty strikes it was hard to continue counting. Most turned away, but others sat and enjoyed the moment. In fact, many laughed through it, some watched with a face that spoke louder than any hate words. No longer did Jesus scream. Just a steady groaning sound was all the energy he could gather. Crack. A few seconds pass. Crack again. And again, only this time with a grunt from the soldier. Thirty-nine in all; his back scarcely looked human. Large ribbons of skin hung from his back, only an occasional stop here and there remained. There was no color but the stain of crimson red. The man set down the whip and walked away after orders from the centurion.
Another group of soldiers approached. With them they brought a scarlet robe along with a staff. They forced the robe on Jesus and made him hold the staff in his right hand. Soldier after soldier fell to their knees mocking the fated king. "Hail, king of the Jews!" Many took their time and creativity when their turn arrived.
Some bowed on their knees then stood, grabbing a staff and repeatedly hitting him on side of the head. Another paid homage, then slapped his face again and again. After being pushed to the ground a group came and spit in his face. "Look, everyone praise the king!" One man yelled, "The son of the most high god is at the will of soldiers! Save yourself Christ, save yourself."
The centurion stood and forced Jesus to his feet. The robe was taken off and he gave Jesus his clothes back. A group of ten soldiers, along with the centurion, were to take Jesus to the site of execution. A large wood beam, weighing nearly a healthy man, was tied to the back of Jesus with rope on each of wrists. Slowly Jesus began his walk to Golgotha. Crowds surrounded the pathway. Most mocked. Some laughed. Many more pointed. A small amount of those I saw following were crying. They cried out for the man they had grown to love. But all was in vain. For years they devoted their whole lives to this one man. but for what? Now what? One group of women traveled right beside Jesus and wept openly. They were becoming hysterical. Jesus, whose body slumped, slowly turned to the group of woman, "Do not weep for me. Weep for yourself and your children." I pushed his cross hard causing him to fall to the ground. "Keep quiet man!"
Jesus couldn't bear the weight of the beam for very long. One of the soldiers kicked him and forced him along. Jesus fell to the ground, unable to keep his upper body above his knees. Another kicked his behind forcing his face to dig into the ground. He couldn't get up. Even the crack of the stick to his body didn't force him to his feet. I yelled at a man along the path, "You! Carry his cross." The man looked at me with deep fear. He didn't know what to do, but knew he had no choice. His name was Simon and he was in Jerusalem with his two boys for the Passover. The Cyrenian kneeled down to his two small sons, whispering in their ears. I can't imagine how he tried to explain to them what he was doing, but the boys remained silent, they simply walked along the outer most edge of the dirt path. Simon came to Jesus and touched him gently on the shoulder, as if to say, "I'll take it from here." Blood transferred to his face as he hoisted the beam above his shoulders. He stumbled at first, shocked by its weight, but then managed to carry it, stumbling every few steps. The walk was silent mostly. Obvious whispers of those passing by, who chose to stop and watch the show, filled the air. An occasional outburst by a mocker, and I noted not one person called out in his defense. I suppose the few who were there for him were too occupied by their wailing to cry out any words.
As for us soldiers, we were settling down for now. Going through the motions. The obnoxious ones were left behind. The centurion picked me, among the others, for the reason of our loyalty to our position. We were loyal to Rome of course, but we were just good soldiers, the best in fact. I suppose I'll admit now I was a little out of hand earlier. I've been through so many of these things, it just becomes a habit. But there's something different about this man walking down the Via Dolorosa. Watching him, inspecting him this past half day, I'd be a liar to say I'm not intrigued. It's just that I had never seen a man take such a punishment without so much as a complaint or a plea. Sure, I believed he had created chaos in this nation over the past three years, but seeing him for the first time, touching his skin, I can't help but ask myself why is this man on this path? Why must he die? How could a man with so much peace, so much patience and humility, be behind anything worthy of death? Those questions remain unanswered, for now I was to do my job.
Up ahead was the infamous hill. In Latin, it's called Calvary. In Hebrew, Golgotha. To the rest of, we simply called it The Skull, the rock ledge that stands about thirty feet high looked just like a human skull. Looking up I saw the three wooden poles. On the left and right, a crossbar was attached holding up two naked men who already began their short time of fame. Shortly, Jesus of Nazareth will join them in the middle. There were seven of us then: Simon continued his duty, four of us soldiers walked along him, the centurion stood behind us all, and Jesus stumbled his way up the hill to meet his destiny. A crowd was gathered, and its numbers seemed to increase in a manner unable to count, like nothing I'd ever seen before.
Upon reaching the sight, Simon fell to his knees a few lengths from the foot of the cross. The man began to weep uncontrollably. Tears raced from his eyes, he cried out loudly, wailing sounds I wish I never heard. He leaned back and let the beam roll off his back to the ground, which was followed by a loud thump. One soldier came up to him and grabbed his clothing marked in red and tossed him across the ground. "Stop that crying you little woman. Get on your way before I give you a beating." Simon stood and stumbled off as fast as he could towards his two sons who were now with the group of wailing woman.
The focus fell on Jesus. Thousands upon thousands pushed and shoved to get a glance at what was to happen to him now. I took his arms tied behind his back and slit the rope off with my sword. Another soldier ripped off his clothing, baring all. After every piece was off his body, the soldier threw the clothes on the ground near the cross on the left. Submissively, he lay on his back against the wood, aligning it with his shoulders. I grabbed his right arm and laid it flush against the beam. One more guard came and held his arm with me, another held down the left side of his body. His eyes were tightly shut, his face was calm and serene.
The last guard knelt to his knees, lining up a nail as long as a man's foot with Jesus' wrist. He raised the stone hammer and let it fall. The crowd gasped as more tried to get in clear view. Jesus screamed a scream that echoed throughout the land. His face grimaced in pain I think no one can sympathize with. His teeth came together and his nose wrinkled up. Crack, the sound of a nail entering bone. The hammer swung again. Blood squirted out of his wrist onto all of us holding him down. He shrieked again. After the third strike his face seemed to take on another form. He was panicked. Anxious. Shocked beyond all belief. His eyes opened wide and he let out a series of cries that lasted for the rest of the right wrist. It took about ten whacks of the hammer to get through the bone and into the wood. The procedure was repeated for his left arm, and after the second nail was put through Jesus' head rested back on the wood. He was moaning and his body squirmed in every which way. I looked around to see many in the crowd were covering their eyes because they wanted nothing to do with the gruesome details. Of course, there were a few who looked very intently. In the eyes of the people who watched I could see pleasure, and joy. envy, and hate. Among those in the front of the growing crowd were the high priest and his close companions. They had that ! look in their eyes. It was unmistakable.
All four of us moved to the back of the beam, where Jesus' head lie. We grabbed and dragged it ten steps towards the cross. Jesus wailed out at the first lift of the board, leaving his legs dragging across the dirt powerless. We settled him on the vertical beam that was brought down to fasten the prisoner. A group of men worked on tying the two pieces of wood to form a cross with thick rope and nailed it in place. We proceeded to his legs, which lay about a grown man's length from the bottom of the large wooden pole. Again, two of us held down his body as the other positioned his legs so that one foot was resting on the other. The forth remaining soldier took out a thicker, and slightly longer nail than before and lined it up with his ankles. When it opened the right leg's bone, Jesus' leg lifted hard and with extreme force. His body created a strength beyond all human strength for protection, as a defense mechanism. Forcefully, we realigned the two legs and pushed down with more force. After the nail exited the first leg, it pierced the second. And after the blood shot out, and the wails ceased, Jesus was ready to be lifted up to be crucified.
It was the third hour when the men pulled on the rope to erect the cross. Above him the sign read, "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." The sign was written in three languages. Hebrew was the language of religion and of Israel, Latin was the language the Romans, and Greek was the language of the commoners, the people.
The four of us remained standing in the area where we nailed down his arms. We looked up, lifted our arms to block the sun out of our eyes and looked at the three condemned men. The moment Jesus was lifted up, the crowd was at its largest, and loudest, I might add. The silence found at the time of nailing Jesus down was nowhere to be found. I was brought back to the room in Pilate's palace, where I literally had to cover my ears from the roaring noise. Men yelled out, "Save yourself, King!" Another shot out, then another. Each man trying to get a bigger laugh than the first. The crowd was amused at first, with time the comments gradually began to fade.
One of the other guards called me over to where Jesus' clothes were. It was an unwritten custom for the soldiers to claim the convict's clothes. He divided the clothing up for the four of us to take. Another soldiers shot in, "Why don't we cast lots and see who keeps all the clothing. I sure don't want just some of his clothing. No good to me. But that piece there," pointing to the undergarment, "is of some value. What do ya say?"
The undergarment was probably Jesus' finest possession on all of earth. It was woven in once piece from top to bottom, and was in fact rather valuable. I responded, "Sure, I agree to that. No sense in none of us getting something worth while." All agreed, we cast our lot to see who would get it. It was good to get the mind off reality, but I didn't win the undergarment. The four of us took a few steps back, covering basically all the ground in front of the three crosses and sat down. One soldier remained standing and offered the three men wine mixed with myrrh and gall. He attached a sponge to a stick and held it up for them to drink.
Both men on the sides took the drink thankfully. But when the soldier got to Jesus, he turned his head and refused the drink. Shocked, or maybe more so intrigued, I got up and asked the soldier what happened.
"Didn't want it. Hey, it's common knowledge the purpose of the drink, ain't it?"
"Guess not," another soldier jumped in on the conversation, "Look how pathetic that king looks up there. He woulda wanted to numb himself to look good to his followers."
"The other two knew its purpose," implying that so did Jesus. It wasn't until after the words came out that I realized I just defended Jesus. It was subtle and I don't think the other two caught on. I couldn't help but wonder, why did want the pain? What drove him to refuse the drink? Why?
All four of us sat back down. For the most part, the hard part of the execution was through. Now it was all routine, no surprises, basically just waiting for them to breathe their last. It was a long and tiresome day. Not much to do but sit back and think. I heard another man yell out above the steady noise, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, come down there and save yourself!" I looked back and a group of ten laughing men had turned to find their way out of the crowd. People started to leave more quickly now. Many passing by on the path just shook their heads, I heard one man yell out, "Can't you save yourself!? Come down from there, Messiah, and we will believe in you." I was still overwhelmed by the size, and sheer numbers that this crucifixion brought.
There were always people who passed by during other ones, but never did anyone stay and watch them for this long. I began to look around for the people who wore sorrow on their faces. I found a few, mostly in the front of the pack. I only found a handful of men, and a group of devoted women. They were the same people along the path. Where were all his followers? Where were all the people who claimed he healed them? I've heard that there were twelve apostles, yet I can count the men here for him on one hand. Strange.
I was taken out of my day dreaming by the unmistakable sound of Caiaphas' voice. He stood there along with many of the elders and teachers whom I met last night. "He saves others! But he can't save himself! Come down from there, man, and I will become your apostle too!" I was beginning to grow an intense hatred for this man. I couldn't believe that I felt this way! They continued to laugh as they pointed at the man they put on the cross.
I turned my attention on that man. His body heaved as he gasped for air. He breathed very raspy breaths, slow, and mechanical. His mouth was open and his cheeks rose permanently in a face of intense pain. But he started to move his facial muscles in what seemed to be an attempt to say something. I pushed my head out, listening intently. "Father," his voice was barely audible, "Forgive them," he took another painful breath in, then he let it out, "For they know not. what they do." At first I thought my ears were deceiving me. I was speechless. What do you say about a man who says such words in such conditions?
Never before had I been so thankful for the time to simply sit and think. So much was going on around me, yet it all seemed so unreal to me, so insignificant to the figure that was in my sight. I saw that man on that cross. But I saw beyond it. I saw the reason. I saw why he allowed it to happen. I was so ignorant to anything he taught, yet in that moment, it all made so much sense to me.
I watched him struggle to push out on his chest so he could breathe. I saw the moments where he fell from that position, and the look on his face that made him get back up and breathe once more. I saw the blood from his scalp drip down his face. I watched as the blood from his hands and feet dripped onto the sand. I could see the pain in his expression when he could hold up no longer and leaned back on the cross, forgetting that skin no longer protected his back. I listened as he whispered to the man to the right of him. I saw the relief on his face when Jesus told him, "Today, my brother, you will be in paradise with me." Passed all this, I saw something unexplainable consume his body. It was a suffering so intense, an agony so deep, and a look of misery so chilling that it could not have come from any of the physical abuse he took. What it was is a mystery. But make no mistake, Jesus endured a tormenting hell on that cross that each of us will never bear.
I looked around to note that the mass of people still remained. Many had left, but many came to stay and watch as the man who claimed to be the Son of God hung. The commotion had come down to people simply talking amongst themselves. I remember looking to the left and trying to make out the crowd standing there, but not being able to see because of the blinding sun. It was then that I turned to my right and found that I couldn't see that way either! It was the sixth hour of that day when darkness fell. I remember looking to my left, then right again, panicked because I couldn't even see a few paces ahead of me. I stood up and turned around frantically. Screams. Loud, frightening screams filled the dark air. I heard people running hysterically, while those still sitting yelled after being trampled. Mass chaos took over the crowd. I called out to the centurion. He gathered a group of soldiers, including the four of us, to find some torches to light up the area as quick as possible. Finding the first fire was the hardest, we were all panicking from the darkness and the loud screaming that emphasized the immediacy with which we needed to act on. Once the first torch was lit, many followed. What the light showed was astonishing. The thousands of people who only moments before were gathered watching a man struggle for air were running recklessly in all directions. I'm sure most ran straight home. Others ran to the nearest light, still others remained right where they were.
It took a couple of hours for everyone to settle. Less than a hundred remained to watch. I was completely dumbfounded. Darkness struck in the middle of the day and it wasn't the kind of darkness that comes when the sun sets. It was pitch-black darkness. Not a star shined in the sky. It was as if nature had completely ceased to exist, like everything known to be was no longer.
I was still on duty to oversee the death of these three men, thus I stayed and sat down with my torch in my position. Most every group had found a source of light to gather around. Ten lanterns were set up surrounding the crosses to make the three visible to those remaining. Groups huddled together were still frantically talking to each other about the bizarre events of the day. To me, it seemed like only a fool wouldn't be able to draw a conclusion from such things. I could almost feel the tense fear in the air. People were scared, and rightly they should be. I can't deny the fact that the thought that the world was coming to an end went through my head.
The only thing that hadn't changed was the breathing pattern of the three men still alive hanging on their cross, though maybe a little more fatigued. At that moment I thought to look for Caiaphas. I turned and turned, then standing and looking at the lit faces of each group. Maybe it was the darkness that hid him, but I swear on my life that he was nowhere to be found. The coward had fled.
The eighth hour was passing as I focused my attention back on Jesus. His body must have grown numb to the pain by then for when he slouched from his upward position he simply sat there as long as possible until he would push up yet again for one more breath. I saw his eyes open and look to his left. There he found the group of woman that had yet to move for the past five hours. Along with them was a man that looked strangely familiar to me. I came to know him as John, he was the second man at Caiaphas' house with the man who denied Christ! John was with Jesus' mother Mary. His arm was around her and she wept into his chest, John's eyes were gleaming with moisture as well. He squeezed Mary to signal her to look up at Jesus who was staring down on her. In his eyes a look only a son can give his mother sparkled. Jesus didn't need to say anything, the eyes spoke louder than any words ever could have. But after a few failed attempts, he finally spoke to the two who were at the foot of his cross. "Dear woman," a few moments passed, "Here is your son," and he nodded to the disciple whom he loved.
And to John he looked down, "Here. is your mother." The two held each other arm in arm. She began wailing louder than ever, he too started sobbing.
It was then that Jesus spoke louder and clearer as he lifted his heavy head to the black sky, "Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?" It was a scream so deep and loud I felt my own body shake and tremble. Thunder struck, and lightening filled the dark sky. Passion filled his voice and an unmistakable look in his eyes showed thousands of emotions. The next moment his body drooped down. For a few moments he hung there, motionless.
"I am thirsty." For the second time that day I thought my ear might be deceiving me. Why would he say that? Willing to take the chance I stood up and found a stock of hyssop plant, at the end I placed a sponge soaked in wine vinegar. I lifted it up to the Messiah and he received it. Barriers of guilt and shame casted a shield not allowing me to look into his eyes. As much as I longed to connect with the man who has challenged every thought I ever knew to be true, I couldn't.
Something was holding me back. Something kept my eyes from locking on his. As I was drawing away the stick, I felt a drop on my arm. I looked back up but was still supernaturally guarded from eye contact. I needed to tell him how I felt. how I'd changed. I turned and walked back to my seat and I threw down the stick and covered my face with my hands and fought back tears. What kept me from him? Why was I forced from what I longed for? I recalled moments at the high priest's room, and again at the palace and the praetorian. I struck him. I spat on him. I mocked him. I drove nails through his body. That was all me. I put him up there. Who am I to think that I could be worthy of his acknowledgement?
I let my arms drop to my lap and looked over to his group of followers, oh how I longed to be with them at that moment! How I longed to cry with them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw red on my arm. It was a drop of his blood that had fallen on me. "This blood is for you." I looked up but didn't see his mouth move.
Again I heard his deep, strong voice. "This blood is for you." I've never been so sure about an event in my life. I heard a voice that moment. The unmistakable voice of Jesus Christ was speaking to me. The King of the Jews. The Savior of the World. The man who wanted to connect with me.
The darkness grew darker. The ninth hour had arrived. The two men on the side were breathing slowly and the one in the middle was beginning to falter.
He pushed his body up once more. His face softened.
"It is finished."
He slumped. Then gasping his last breath he made himself as straight as the nails would permit.
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit..."
The darkness was lifted and the sun shined bright again. But the earth began to shake, slowly at first, then harder and harder. It thundered and the rocks began to roll. Almost in slow motion I saw another soldier fall to the ground. All those standing came crashing to the ground. There was no sound but the roaring of the earth giving a sudden stir. Fields were split in two, and roads were destroyed. Homes came crashing down and the veil in the Temple tore in half. The earthquake ceased. Silence took over. No one ran in panic, no one screamed in fear.
Silence filled the air. Those at the cross stared at his body, everyone everywhere else stared straight into the sky at the shining sun. Even the Pharisees looked silently in awe towards the bloody, battered, bared man. No one could open their mouth. Many attempted to break the silence, but couldn't. Many tried to stop staring, but weren't able to. I couldn't help but remember the simple words he spoke, "It is finished."
Still in the silence of the cross I found myself falling on my knees, face to the ground. Many others assumed the same position. I looked up at the sound of footsteps. It was the centurion. He stood before Jesus, with fear in his eyes. "Surely, this man was the Son of God."
From that day forth, my life has taken on a new face. Nothing will ever take away those dreaded memories, but I rest assured, I know my Lord has forgiven me. I can't explain why he did what he did. I don't understand how or why I was chosen. But I do know that his blood cleansed me for all eternity. He bought me.
And for that I am eternally grateful. Praise be to the King of the Jews! Oh yes. there was another. thing. that took place afterwards. Three days later, the stone rolled away. He wasn't there. Trust me, I saw him. I talked to him.