Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thoughts on Holy Saturday

From this morning's Gospel Reading:
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Yesterday was a day like none other.  Outside the city walls of Jerusalem, a cosmic collision of the temporal and eternal took place, affixed to a cruel Roman cross. In the eyes of some, it may have appeared as the death of a desperate hope of throwing off the yoke of Imperial Rome. To others, it represented the messy death of a wide-eyed troublemaker. Still to others, it appeared as the timely demise of a troublesome meddler who was bent on usurping a culture and religious system. Irrespective a body, now still and lifeless, hung between heaven and earth. The eyes that stare in from outside of our timeline saw something completely apart. To these eyes, there on Golgotha's hill hung the only propitiatory offering that could satisfy a Holy and Just God. Just moments prior, this God-man suspended above the earth cried out "Tetelestai"! The debt for sins ancient and future were paid. The God-man then stepped out of our timeline and willingly yielding his life back into the hands of the Father. 

Those follower of the master, who hadn't abandoned him, now had approximately three hours to see to the matter and in doing so, would render themselves ceremonially unclean for the coming feast Yet in their devotion, they sought the body of Jesus who might have otherwise been cast into the burning garbage dump outside of the city walls, gehenna. Instead of becoming food for carrion, the remains of the Christ were lovingly laid in Joseph, a leading Sadducee's tomb.

A day later, the Jewish priestly aristocracy was nervous. They knew that in spite of the Christ's resounding declaration, that this was far from over. With the Roman governor's approval, the tomb was sealed with the signet of Imperial Rome. This seal was a dire warning to would be hoaxers that should they attempt to steal Christ's remains, they would suffer the same fate as the one lying on the other side of the stone.

From the standpoint of the Apostolic band, this had to be a crushing day. One of their own had handed Jesus over to the authorities and was now dead by his own hands. Their "class president" made a profanity-laced denial of their Master and was now living with the disgrace. The rest were hiding somewhere in the city, for fear that perhaps after the feast, they would be next.

Yet, we soon learn just how one day changes everything.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Good Friday Meditation

This evening at All Saint's, we observed the solemnity of Good Friday in the worship service that is known as "Solemn Collects and Reflections", with the reflections being given by our Priests and Deacons.  I was asked to offer a reflection through the eyes of the Centurion who was present and overseeing the crucifixion of the Christ and the two thieves that afternoon.  This is a first person reflection, but offered as if the Centurion was speaking in the form of a letter that was written to his father, who himself was a retired Centurion.  Some license was taken as Scripture provides no "back story" on this man.

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  Gaius Longines, a Centurion in the service of Tiberius, and the citizens of Rome.  I greet you Crasius on a day that has been like none other since my cohort was posted to this dour corner of the Empire.

  As you’ve long known, I accepted a commission as a Centurion in civic duty, desiring to serve the greater glory of Rome.  In my heart I had always dreamt of driving out the barbarians as you did, from our far frontiers.  instead, my cohort was posted to the Tenth Legion in Judea.  Rather than expanding the frontier, my cohort now works to maintain the tenuous peace between Governor Pilate and this rabble population.  I have found myself to be far more an executioner of common criminals than a soldier, combating worthy adversaries.  Yet today is difficult to understand, which is why I write you, my esteemed father.

  Over the past few days, Jerusalem has been groaning as Jews from throughout the province have been converging on the city in preparation for one of their observances.  Along with their faithful, thieves and other criminals arrived to prey on the unsuspecting.  Two such culprits, along with an insurrectionist named Barabbas were placed in our custody to await execution. Yet this morning, temple leaders delivered up a fourth man, one allegedly claiming to be the King of the Jews.  Pilate took an interest in this man and determining that he’d committed no capital crime, ordered him beaten for being a nuisance.  Yet those religious leaders insisted that he’d be put to death, and demanded clemency for the insurrectionist.  Pilate, being a shrewd man, acquiesced to their demands, fearing a riot.

  A short time later, the three were delivered to my custody for execution and seeing this “king”, I drew back with a deep horror.  He wasn’t simply beaten, one member of the cohort whipped him with the flagrum while another severely wounded his head with those dreaded capparis spinosa thorns, leaving him a seething walking wound.  I’ve seen the horrors of battle, yet this churned my constitution and I was compelled to avert my gaze. Beaten and bruised, I was amazed to see him standing silently, without a sound.  It became clear after setting off for the execution site that this wretch would die enroute, so I compelled an onlooker to carry this “king’s” cross.

  On the brow of the hill, each had a placard affixed to their cross, according to Roman law, stating their name and crime.  As the day wore on, it was punctuated by cries, curses and the jeering contempt of passersby; it wasn’t so with this “king”.  I’m acquainted with the language of Jerusalem, and what this Nazarene was saying intrigued me.  He was asking forgiveness for my century who crucified him.  He offered comfort to a thief and later, let out an emotional cry to his god. 

  The afternoon progressed as a gathering darkness seemed to encircle and swallow Jerusalem.  The man spoke of his thirst.  I’ve never considered myself a compassionate man, yet I ordered the soldiers to share a drink of their beverage.  This seemed to revive him as he raised his head spoke once more, then expired before us.  In my heart, I was struck.  An innocent man was executed today, but he was much more than one not guilty of any crime.  He was as a son of the gods, or perhaps the very Son of God.

  At any case, his remains now lie in a sealed tomb A Guard mount is watching over it to see that no mischief occurs or his body disturbed.