At the foot of the cross

At the foot of the cross

by Rachel Boxer

It was a good death, as deaths go. And I’ve seen my fair share, believe me! We, the Romans, that is, have mastered the art of death as a spectator sport...and we’d saved our best for him...the one they called Jesus.

Crucifixion, that’s the way! A slow, lingering, painful death, sure to bring the crowds thronging! We love a good crucifixion, us Romans...reserve it for the most vicious criminals only. Serves as a kind of warning to those watching what happens if you mess with the Roman Empire.

I suppose that’s one of the things that puzzled me about this Jesus. He didn’t seem to be the usual choice. But when the people were offered an alternative - Barabbas, his name was - they bayed for this Jesus’s blood instead. And so Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea at the time, had no choice but to release the murderer, Barabbas, and hand over this Jesus. Hand him over to be crucified that is. It didn’t seem right...

I was on duty that day - and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. Not likely to either...

Jesus had already been mocked and humiliated in front of our whole company of soldiers. Throughout it all, he said nothing - not a word! That puzzled me too.

We stripped him and dressed him in a scarlet robe; made him a crown out of the thorn bushes...and put a staff in his right hand. ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’ we mocked, and pretended to bow before him. Knowing what I know now...well, let’s say I wouldn’t have done...and leave it at that, eh?

It was just the beginning of the journey that day...

Out in the streets, they grabbed a man from the crowds and gave him the job of carrying the heavy, wooden cross through the streets and up towards the hill they called Golgotha, the Skull. There, we offered Jesus bitter wine to drink, just in case he was thirsty, but he only took a mouthful...

And then the deed was done. He was nailed to that cross, high above the heads of the onlookers...with a notice above his head proclaiming ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’

We sat at the foot of the cross, as was our habit, and threw dice to decide who got which bit of his clothes. As usual, I won nothing and although I would never admit it to anyone, I was glad...because I was beginning to want the whole thing over with. Didn’t seem to me like we were dealing with the right man...

There were two others crucified with him that day - one on his right and one on his left. Some of the passers-by flung insults at him and jeered. ‘You said you were the Son of God! Get yourself down from there and we’ll believe you!’ That kind of thing. But still Jesus said nothing.

The other two made up for it though - they were shouting, calling out in pain those two villains were. And then one of them started hurling insults at Jesus as well...until the other butted in: ‘Don’t you fear God at all?’ he said. ‘We are punished for the crimes we have committed...but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And then he turned to Jesus and said: ‘Remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Then Jesus spoke his first words...strange words they were: ‘Truly, I tell you - today you will be with me in paradise.’

Who was this man?

After that, something happened that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end...

It was just before midday. I know, because the sun was high in the sky. As if night was falling, the sky grew black...in the middle of the day! It stayed that way for hours. Then Jesus spoke his final words, crying out in a loud voice that echoed across the darkness: ‘Father - into your hands I commit my spirit.’

And then it was over - no need for us to do any more...

At that very moment there was another eerie sound as the earth trembled in response, rocks splitting and cracking...an earthquake rippling out across the city. People later reported all sorts of weird things happening...people being raised from the dead...that kind of thing...

I’d seen enough. I couldn’t help myself. I fell to my knees at the foot of his cross, overcome...a mixture of shame and grief. Before I could stop myself, I was saying something...saying it out loud: ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’

My part in this death was over, except for the paperwork, as they say! I was summoned as chief witness before Governor Pilate to confirm that Jesus was dead - which he was, believe me, ‘cos no-one survives a Roman crucifixion, we make sure of that!

Strangely, I still hold by what I said that day, as I trembled at the foot of his cross. ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’ In fact, considering what’s happened since, I’m even more sure of it than I was then, but that’s another story for another day.

Duty calls. You don’t want me punished for deserting my post do you?!

Salvete!

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