(This is a meditation I wrote and posted before, but I think it is appropriate for this most holy of days.)
As I clench my spear, I look at him. I don’t know what to think.
It is quiet now. All is still.
An hour ago, the dust was stirred up, hovering above the feet of many people.
They were all here because of him. Some were here to kill him. Some were here to worship him.
Covered in sweat and smeared with blood, his breathing was slow. With all the energy he could muster, he heaved himself up, savoring what he could from his ration of breaths. He sank back down, his head more than his body. He looked defeated, but not quite in despair; saddened, but not quite crushed.
His eyes were shut, but not by choice; the beatings had sealed them for him. I wonder what he was thinking. What was going on in his mind?
His face displayed a solemn look of acceptance. Light ripples of peace calmly drifted away from him. He looked quite unimportant and worthless, nailed to that tree. But, indeed, there was a peculiar quality of worth about him, an aura of suppressed majesty.
There was something peculiarly alluring about this man.
He was different from the others we had killed.
There was an intangible aroma in the air around him. It smelled of assured confidence, tinged lightly with honor. But it was very elusive. I sensed I was witnessing something profound, but as soon as I leaned in to inhale deeper, I lost the scent.
He had an appeal about him that was calling me to be closer, but as soon as I would lean forward it would cease.
My thoughts were broken by the saddened groans of those around me.
I looked questioningly to my right, and then to my left. Handfuls of mourners were crying and bellowing. I could hear moans from the deepest part of their beings.
Tears rolled down their faces. Some women were on their knees, their heads bowed down to the dusty ground.
There was something about this man’s death that brought about the pains of labor in the depths of these people. I didn’t understand. Maybe for Caesar, but for this man?
Remembering whose armor I war, I disgustingly questioned to them, “Why?”
My heart was hardening, and quickly began to freeze what that man had begun to melt.
“For what?” I asked, without answer.
Caesar gave me power. Rome gave me all I had. I had heard their stories about this man. He did things nobody had ever done. He healed. He touched the lepers. He ate with prostitutes. He offended a lot of the Jews, but others he inspired to follow him.
He claimed to be God, but that couldn’t be. He was just a man.
He talked a lot about his coming kingdom, but how could that be? Look at him!
“For him?” I emphatically inquired with the pointing of my spear towards his frail body.
They did not answer. They only wept. They were so lost.
Clenching my spear with both hands, I turned back to him, and looked.
I felt the warmth of my palms. My hands, moist with timidity, tightened around my spear. The man inspired a tense nervousness. However, there was a distinct comfort in holding that wooden weapon. How soothing it was to know that through the wood in my hand, I had the power and the glory; the power to grant pardon, and the power to take life. I was feared for the name on my armor and the spear in my hand. What did this man have? What glory could he claim?
All he had was his nakedness and vulnerability. All he had was defeat. All he had to claim was death.
How could anyone be seduced by the glory of a defeated man? How could he confuse so many of these people?
I pitied those around me who mourned. Did they not know the greatness of Rome? Did they not see that we were greater than this peasant? We offered them peace. Security. Victory. Glory.
And they wanted him? What did he offer?
The other centurions laughed. The rolled dice for the rights to his tattered clothes, the clothes we ripped off his slashed body.
They yelled at him and, with laughs interspersed, invited him to bring himself down from the cross.
He didn’t answer. He didn’t move.
Why didn’t he relent to Caesar? Why didn’t he care for his own life?
After a few moments, he finally lifted his head up, gazing into the unknown. Sensing he was finally about to speak, everyone became still with anticipation.
Directing his speech not towards anyone on the ground, he opened his mouth. Barely being able to talk, he slowly uttered a prayer: “Father. Please forgive them. They do not know what they’re doing.”
All was still. All was quiet. Everyone soaked in his words.
The centurions smiled with awkward grins. They didn’t know what to make of that. They didn’t know what it felt like to be forgiven. They didn’t recognize love. They self-consciously laughed it off, mocking his words and his voice, sarcastically questioning his forgiveness.
But something in me felt strangely awry. I did not fully understand. His words felt as if they were filled with authenticity. I felt, deep within me, that his words were clothed with the authority of one who was truly given the right to speak them.
I felt strangely assured that if he said he forgave someone, they were truly forgiven. There was something different about this man. There was a budding confidence in me that this was a special man. It was at once fearful and alluring.
My thoughts were interrupted by the screams of a weeping man. “Don’t you see?!” he yelled to the guards, “He loves! He loves! He loves! He loves you despite it all!”
The guards stared back in silence.
I began to think to myself, “If he loves, if he truly, honestly loves, then he loves me,” Confused, I again reflected, “He loves me.”
For some reason, I began to believe that to be true.
I couldn’t recall hearing of a better man, or at least one more void of hate. Here was a man I had helped to beat, one I had encouraged to be whipped voraciously. We had driven spikes through his arms and feet, leaving him to die. But he had never done anything to us but to love. One of the other guards even had his ear sliced off by the sword of one of this man’s followers. Instead of rewarding his follower, this man chastised him. And he then healed the guard’s ear.
He loves me.
How simple, yet how profound? Hearing him say this birthed something in me. Though I couldn’t describe or pinpoint it, some new thing had begun in me. I felt my heart begin to uneasily soar. And I felt the questions within me begin to surface.
What if what that man said was true?
What if all of the people around me were right?
What if the man up there was more than a man?
There was more silence. There was more stillness. There was more thought.
The man on the cross lifted his head gingerly a few inches. He oriented it towards me. His swollen eyes were in line with mine.
I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could feel them looking into me.
He didn’t open his mouth, but he spoke straight to me.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I just gazed back at him. However pitiful he looked, with his face almost unrecognizable, I strangely felt as if I was looking into the face of greatness. An energy pulsed through my body. My heart began to beat faster, a rhythm composed of both fear and excitement.
There was something about him that drew me in; he beckoned me to a higher level. I was confused and captivated by the love of this man.
The he lifted his head again.
He slowly raised his body, his strength almost gone.
He inhaled one more breath and groaned before sinking.
He softly, yet confidently, uttered his last words:
“It is finished.”
And then it was.
The men and women around me looked up with open mouths, unable to speak.
There was a deep quietness. We all waited. We were all still.
A confusing wind blew through all of the people; we weren’t sure if we saw the end of something so much as the beginning.
We were answered by a soft rumbling. The ground began to shake and pebbles began bouncing along the ground. The rumble quickly grew to a roar, and sounds of fear began to echo in the air. The ground began to violently tremble. Though it was the middle of the afternoon, the skies quickly darkened. I was frozen, not so much in fear but in contentment. Instead of hate, I began to feel a hint of awe towards this man. I was becoming increasing enthralled with the man in front of me, and I didn’t want to move.
This man was no man.
He was more.
The screams of the other guards brought me out of my thoughts. “Finish him!” they yelled.
It was mandated that a crucified man be pierced before he be brought down. But how could I pierce this man? How could I wreck his body even more? I looked hopefully over to the other guards.
“Pierce him!” they frustratingly yelled.
I turned back towards him and began to walk towards his body. I felt my heart beat faster with each step towards him. Though dead, he radiated a deep power. The closer I got to him, the more alive I felt.
Gripping my spear, I realized how sweaty my hands were. There was disarray all around. People were running, crying out in sadness. The other guards were yelling for me to quickly complete the act. I could feel many eyes watching me.
Just as I was trained, I lifted my spear and pulled it back and then drove it forward into the side of this man.
And then I saw something I had never seen before; something bewildering and exciting at the same time.
Blood. And water.
Both poured from his side.
Gasps came from the mourning Jews. They screamed shouts of fearful excitement. It seemed to be of great astonishment and importance to them.
Still grasping my spear, I pulled it out of him, and gazed up.
Sprinkled by his blood, I now stand.
What else can I do?
As I clench my spear, I look at him. I don’t know what to think.
Strangely, I feel more proud to have this man’s blood on me than the armor of Caesar.
I feel regretful, but I feel forgiven. I feel lost, but I feel loved.
I hold my spear in my sweaty hands, but it means nothing to me now.
I stand close to him and I can now see.
I chose violence. He chose peace.
I chose persecution. He chose forgiveness.
I chose to hate him. He chose to love me.
I chose to help kill him. He chose to help me to live.
He did this for me.
I drop my spear to the ground.
Truly, this man was the son of God.