We suggest that you begin reading the Centurion series from the beginning.
Mark 15:42-46; Matthew 27:62-66
By the time the storm had blown itself out, the only ones left at the crucifixion site were a few women. My men and I were soaked to the skin, cold and irritable. I can’t say I was displeased when the replacement troop of soldiers arrived. With a last look at Jesus, and with the curses of one of the terrorists still ringing in our ears, I marched my men back to the barracks to dry off and warm up at the fire.
I had barely put a dry tunic on, when a messenger from the Governor’s office arrived. He seemed put out that we were in the barracks and not at the crucifixion. I shrugged and asked him what he wanted. “The Governor wants to know if Jesus of Nazareth is dead.”
“Didn’t you look when you went to Golgotha?” I asked.
“Two of the men were still moaning, and it’s not my place to determine if the other man’s silence is proof of his death. That’s your work, centurion. The Governor wants a report. And he wants it now.” I hastily threw on my armor and followed the man to Pilate’s palace.
When I got there, a rather nervous-looking man was standing before Pilate. Judging by the quality of his clothes, he was probably a wealthy and important member of Jerusalem’s ruling class, but I didn’t think I had seen him there the night before. I approached Pilate, and he said, “Ah, centurion. This man claims Jesus of Nazareth is already dead, and is asking me to release his body for burial.” He paused as if weighing the merits of this most unusual claim. After all, we don’t bury insurgents – we leave them up as an example to others. Making his decision, he said, “I am inclined to grant his request. However, it seems far too short a time for this man to have already died. Can you confirm that he is, in fact, dead?”
“Yes sir, he is dead. We drove a spear into his side – the fluids had already separated.”
He looked at the man, and then said, “Very well Joseph, you may have the body of your rabbi.” Turning to me he said, “Centurion, accompany this man, take down the cross and give him the body of Jesus of Nazareth.” I took him to Golgotha and had the soldiers remove the body from the cross. As the man wrapped Jesus’ corpse in a linen cloth, I took one last look at this seemingly insignificant person who had nonetheless drawn some very significant people together – in life and in death. But this was the end of all that.
My friend told me the following night that the chief priests had gone to Pilate that morning, concerned that Jesus’ followers would steal his body away. Seems these Judaeans believe in bodily resurrection, and if Jesus really had made claims that he would not only die, but also rise again, then I suppose it makes sense to prevent his followers from stealing his corpse and spreading just such a rumor. Pilate gave them a small guard from among my friend’s soldiers and they made the grave secure. If Jesus’ followers had made such plans I was sure the guard would dissuade them.
But once again, little prepared me for what actually happened.
This is part of an ongoing historical fiction series leading up to Easter. It features the story of Jesus’ path to the cross from the perspective of a Roman Centurion. It was written by Sean Gladding, the author of The Story of God, The Story of Us. This series will be posted as a daily devotional. We hope this narrative stirs deeper reflection on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ final days.