Suggested Scripture: John 19: 25 – 20:10
It is a little after three in the afternoon on the hilltop. It is now some time since the last of the crucifed figures has stirred. At this point the centurion in charge of the execution moves towards the small squad who have worked this shift with him. The time has come to carry out what was considered to be a small act of mercy. It will at least bring the obscene process to an end.
In the case of the middle prisoner, long experience of these executions tells the centurion that he has been dead for some time. He signals for the legs of the two others to be broken.
Because the centurion is well aware that this is not an ordinary criminal execution, but that it also involves an element of politics, its possible he may at this stage have taken the opportunity to look around to see who had remained throughout the whole dreadful process. If he did so he would first become aware of a group of four, three of them women. He had noticed them there from the very beginning, three women and a young man. They were preparing to go, at least the three younger people were obviously trying to pursuade the older woman to come away. It was obvious that she was exhausted almost to the point of collapse.
If the centurion had looked further down the slope he would have seen a large group of women. If he had looked even further something unusual might have sparked his interest. Standing together, aloof from all others, were two men who, at least by the quality of their dress and the confidence of their bearing, were in some way official.
Some distance apart from the pair were other men moving about restlessly. They were obviously rural and rather unkempt. From his various periods of army service around the country the centurion mentally pegged them as Galilean. The interesting thing he noticed was that, while they paced about restlessly, they seemed reluctant to gather as a group, as if they did not want to be noticed as such. He made a mental note to report this to his superior when he made his overall report on the executions of the afternoon.
He gave his men the signal to begin clearing the hill, At this point one of the two official looking spectators came towards him, handed him a document that gave official permission for the body of the prisoner on the middle cross for cleansing and burial. The centurion offered his men to help but the Jewish official said that others who had not yet left the hill would respond to his request for assistance. The centurion realized that the Galilean group he had noticed was already gathering to assist. As he watched them he could not help noting the care and tenderness with which they went about the task. Obviously this had been carefully planned.
The two officials gave directions, the Galilean group of men did the actual removal, then the women were called to the body, which they swiftly wrapped before returning it to be carried away.
The centurion looked again at the sheet giving permission from the Procurator for all this to take place. He noticed that one of the Jewish officials had arranged for the body to be placed in a private tomb on his estate. By now he and his men were alone on the hill. Glad that his day’s duty was over, the centurian dismissed the men, walked to his waiting horse, and left to begin writing his report while it was still vivid in his mind.
What that long ago centurion would not report , because he was not even dimly arare of it, was that, while he had most certainly witnessed a death, he had also witnessed the birth of something that would in a comparatively short time not only affect the vast empire he served but would spread to lands and peoples of whom neither he nor any other living person at that time was even aware of. He had been present at the birth of christian faith.
When we as inheritors of a 2000 year christian tradition come to consider the scene on that long ago hill, we can see that even in the very first hours after Jesus’ death, even before anyone is thinking of resurrection as anything other than a desperate hope, a community of believers has already emerged! Why is this important?
For over that two thousand years we Christians continue try to pierce the mystery we call Resurrection. As we do so, we can easily miss the fact that whatever it means to say that Jesus rose from the tomb, something else rose from the events of that long ago day, something we can instantly and clearly understand.
That something is who we are, the Christian community. We are the people on the hill. (words 836)