The Roman Centurion Speaks

A meditation

Song plus reflection in preparation for a Lent address...

Surely this man was:

There was silence in the heavens,

There was rumbling in the hills,

The earth it shook and the rocks they split,

I hear that earthquake still.

And the spirits walked abroad that day,

They were seen around the town,

I did not know it at the time,

Only heard it later on.

Chorus: And the people came from miles around,

And I kept them all at bay,

most watched from a distance,

But I know some heard me say,

"Surely this man was……..

Surely this man was………

Surely this man was …..

the Son of God!"

It was about the sixth hour,

When the deathly darkness fell

And the sun just gave up shining,

I remember all too well,

And the veil within the temple court,

Was torn right into two,

And I got a creepy feeling,

Can you feel it too,

"Surely this man was……..

Surely this man was………

Surely this man was……

the Son of God!"

I heard him scream a loud cry,

I felt my blood run cold,

I heard him place his spirit,

In the hands of the God of old,

But why when he'd done nothing wrong,

Did they howl out for his blood?

Why did they fear the one,

So many said was good?

"Surely this man was……..

Surely this man was………

Surely this man was…… the Son of God".

Meditation:

So what was it that caused this battle hardened centurion, a leader of tough and brutal men, to come out with such a statement as this?

Was he seeing Jesus for the first time, and was he simply struck by the simplicity of this man’s faith in a God he called Father? Was his heart captured by a crucifixion victim who prayed for his enemies as the nails were being hammered into his hands. Could he have met with Jesus before? Who knows he may even have been the same centurion who pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant, and just say the word. Perhaps he was already a convert? Perhaps not?

Let’s hear him tell his tale in his own words.

Here I am a campaign hardened, battle scarred warrior; a proud professional soldier, leader of men, demoted to THIS!

Commander of Pilate’s execution squad! Here of all places on this bleak and miserable hill, in this Godforsaken dump of a city…in the farthest flung corner of the empire.

Great reward this is, for all my many years of service to Rome.

And yet …today was different! Decidedly strange!

I’m familiar with death, and all things gory and bloody,familiar with the death throes of both friends and foe dying around me on the field of battle. . . limbless bodies writhing in agony. I’ve been there alongside the fatally wounded, and I’ve heard their anguished cries and their tears as the night closed in . . . as the reality hits that they’ll never see their homeland or their loved ones again. I’ve heard them scream out loud to their gods, to no avail. The gods were deaf to them!

So what was it about this particular death today that moved me, I ask myself?

I actually witnessed this man’s god respond to him before my eyes today?And I liked it not! What was so different about this man Jesus, they called the blasphemer?

Some say he was a righteous man…

He has unsettled me?His death unnerves me still! I can’t seem to put my finger on it!

I’ve heard the cursing and the screeching of the condemned too, many times before, countless times, pinned to their crosses, scrawny, cowardly dogs that they are…

and I’ve heard to their endless curses, but I didn’t hear him cursing. I’ve listened to them as their screams gradually faded to hoarse whispers, and to the wind’s howling becoming louder than their moans. But he just sort of surrendered, gave himself up!

No, I’ve not had a day like this before.

They tell me this man Jesus was silent in his own defence before Pilate…didn’t speak out to plead for his life, or to be spared the agony. Well, that’s what they say…Word spreads quickly among my men…

Strange! Not one word to save himself! Fancy that!

And when I let the tormentors, my dogs loose upon him to flay him within an inch of his life, he had that strange, pained, resigned look upon his face, as they tore his flesh open with metal and bone.

Resignation… not fear, and I admired him for it…

After that they made an utter fool of him, bowing before him in mock obeisance, You see they had crowned him with a wreath of thorns, they covered his lacerated skin with a coarse cloak. ‘King of the Jews’ did Pilate say?

King he was. They made it so! He had his moment of glory! So much so that they covered him with spittle. Rough lot my men. His face was covered in bruises, when they had finished with him. Blood oozed from his head.

‘Enough,’ I said, ‘we have a job to do, leave him. Make ready the crosspiece.’

‘I’ll keep a close eye on this one’ I told myself. ‘Can’t he see he’s been abandoned, cursed by the god he believes in! Any moment now, desolation will hit him!

Then I saw him embrace the cross, yes that’s what I saw him do!

‘Get back! Stand aside’ I ordered the rabble. Let him be!’

Poor beggar, pathetic and delusional, more to be pitied than anything else.

What a job we had getting him to the hill…why we have to take the longest route I’ll never know, but I suppose it teaches the rest of them a lesson, not to get above their station…not to put a foot wrong. This is justice! Roman justice! Order not chaos!

When we got him to the place of crucifixion, he appeared more dead than alive.

Not many survive the 39 stripes. Indeed some go mad, some die there and then with the shock of it all. But I fully expected to hear him cursing! And it just didn’t happen.

‘What was that, he just said?’ I yelled to my soldier, the one whose job it was to hammer in the nails.

‘He’s asking his God to forgive us,’ he called back, laughing ‘says we don’t know what we’re doing!’

Hah! huh! Was he indeed? Was he …indeed? FORGIVE US?

As the hours wore on, and the sky got darker by the minute, I hung around on duty;

I was quite interested in him by then, so I overlooked the fact that my men were gambling, casting lots for this poor creature’s clothing, right there at the foot of the cross…under his very nose; and I heard him say other things, though I pretended not to be listening!

I, like Pilate, could find no fault in him. He was indeed the gentlest of men.

I heard him address his mother and comfort her, he said his goodbyes so to speak.

I heard him as he called out for water. He cried out to his god and called him Father.

‘Why have you forsaken me?’ he cried out and he stared up at the heavens!

Expecting an answer was he?

I’ll tell you what though, the gods answered him though, I looked around and the sky had become black by then! Perhaps it was then I decided that he was a righteous man. An innocent man.

But apart from all that, I know now it was his very last scream that actually got to me.

That final bloodcurdling howl made me look up …at those eyes!

As a soldier I knew that’s what it was! That was the look on his face and the nature of that cry. Victory! This was his final battle cry!

I, being an experienced soldier know it only too well.

Every soldier relishes that glorious moment in battle when we know we finally have the advantage and we swoop, the enemy flees before us, and we all cry that cry and we give chase!

We savour that moment and we move in for the kill.

And we wipe out the enemy!

Annihilate them. The moment is ours! It’s over! Finished!

That was his cry, just before his last breath!

It sounded strangely glorious too!

But what victory did he have to celebrate. I’ve heard no man ever cry thus before death takes him. But so what?

I persuade myself his was just one death among many at Golgotha.

Just one more cross littering the place up. Why should I care?

But you know I’m a man who has weathered many storms in campaigns all over the world, I’ve felt terror in the past like any other soldier fearing the power of the gods in howling storms, in thunder, lightning and hail out in the open, with no shelter.

I’ve seen strange sights, signs in the northern skies and wonders in the heavens, even felt the ground shake before.

But not like it shook at that very moment he died. We were thrown to the ground, The sound of the quake deafened me.

I looked up and saw rocks splitting in the distance, some buildings fell to the ground.

It was a cry of victory not defeat!

It was unusual that it happened right there and then, at the moment when he gave up his spirit. The area cleared very quickly, then.

Some people later on this evening reported seeing apparitions! Hmmm?

And more! It gets worse!

Since then I’ve heard that there was a strange sign in the Temple of the Jews, something about the temple veil being torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and not the other way round.

Serves them right, the cowards, wanting us to do their dirty work for them. A bad omen~ they say…Well they may be superstitious, I’m certainly not….and yet !

I remember how I just stood staring up at him,

I know my men had the jitters too. I remember looking round at them uneasily, they had the same look of fearful look in their eyes as I know I had in mine. I ordered them to be stand easy…and I recovered my composure.

But the silence got to me, and of a sudden I realised I was trembling.

‘Truly this man was God’s son.’ I said!

Now as I look back on it all, back here in the garrison, I tell myself Life goes on. But I also ask ‘Was I making a statement of belief then ? Or was I asking myself a question that demands an answer.

You know he got to me, this man Jesus . . . campaign hardened, battle scarred, proud warrior that I am! He got through!

Some questions for discussion:-

1 What do you think were the main qualities that so impressed the Roman centurion about Jesus’ as he hung dying on the cross, so much so that it brought this soldier to such a confession as this?

2 What kind of things would we have to do as Christians today to bring unbelievers to a similar faith statement as the centurion?

3 What would you say to a member of some other world faith who accused you, as a Christian, of being part and parcel of the decadent west?

3 Share any stories you might have where an unbeliever you know has come to a sudden moment of faith. Explain what it was that changed his thinking.