Jesus lives at Starbucks

When I read the words, Ubi tres, ibi Ecclesia, Where three are, there is a churchI imagined us. It’s based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus’s non-traditional notions of “church” were in direct contradiction to the requirements of the Jewish law to have ten men present to make a congregation.

Did he say it just to contradict the teaching of the religious or because there was something far deeper? Christians use this verse many times when praying, but this also contradicts the idea that Jesus is always with us, even when we are alone. 

There is a bigger and brighter idea here. A concept that breaks through all religious notions and rules. There is no number of times a day to pray, no specific place, no time of day. There are no correct words. The concept of two or three is to remind us that even in the midst of the smaller number of two or three, we form a church, a body, a moving being. We don’t need a building, or a denomination or seventy-two ministries to call ourselves Christians. We just need a good friend, an open hand and our loving God.

There is a great treasure to be found in the power of two. It is more than just ourselves. It is another person holding us saying it’s going to be ok. It’s another image of God staring at us. It’s God picking us up when we are unable to pray. It’s creating a congregation in a house, in the midst of a work-space or out here in the abyss of cyberspace.

I have had church in closed-door meetings, the floor of a friend’s house, in front of the Blessed Sacrament on the kneeler. Some of my most profound prayers have been prayed in the most unlikely of places. You don’t have to be in church to lead someone to Jesus, and for me, Starbucks seems to be the place where He appears the most. Maybe there is something about a cup of hot coffee and God. Or maybe it is the place where longer conversations can take place, philosophy still exists and people go to gather and meet and not just sit behind computer screens pretending other people are not there.

Don’t get me wrong, the mass is holy and reverent and the place you’ll find me on Sunday mornings. Not because God makes me, but because my heart implores me. And sometimes the mass contains moments that are prayers without words. Like feeding the eucharist on the tongue to a woman whose eyes are filled with tears, or hands that are wrinkled and clammy and needing His body or blessing a small child who longs for the wafer they are drawn to but know nothing about. For me being Catholic isn’t about the kneeler, it’s about the others on the kneeler with me, looking up at the same crucifix. 

If you are alone today, not religious, not part of a church, there is no need to worry. You are not alone. Grab my hand and let’s pray. Let’s have coffee

“This church isn’t loving enough!”

Why do you suppose it is that some churches are considered to be “loving” while others aren’t? Maybe a better question would be, “Why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?”

I remember one time several years ago when I received a phone call one Saturday evening from a very ticked off woman from church who spent at least 20 minutes yelling at me because someone else in our church had been rude to her: “What happened to the love in this church?” she demanded to know.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t exactly feeling the love in that moment either. She abruptly ended the call by telling me that unless I did something pretty darn quick that she was leaving for good.

So often I hear things like this…

Why are some churches “loving” and others aren’t  why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?

I don’t know about anybody else, but I think the answer to these questions lies in the very nature of love itself. Perhaps we can find a clue in the great “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (13:4-7 emphasis added)

These are some of the most beautiful and familiar verses in all of Scripture, and I’m sure that if anyone reads these verses and then goes back to the little incident I just recounted, you’ll come up with a working theory on the questions I posed… I hope that before going further, everyone will read the entirety of the chapter for context… Of course, speaking of context, this chapter is in a larger section on spiritual gifts that runs from chapter 12-15 and thus love is a side note. Theologically speaking the real “Love Chapter” in the New Testament is 1 John 4, a very interesting bit of writing to say the least.

In verses 1-6 John is speaking about the spirit of antichrist which is afoot in this world and that may seem odd in a chapter about love, yet God’s love in us is the perfect antidote for the spirit of antichrist. John tells us that we have overcome that dark spirit already (4:4).

At first glance vv. 7 ff. appear to be redundant in the extreme. Yet upon closer examination this isn’t the case, for John in these verses is making the case for love itself, and he is doing so in a manner that is simplicity itself: God loved us and sent his Son to die for us, therefore we love Him. God loves our brothers and sisters, therefore so do we. Since all of this is true, anyone who does not love their brother and sister does not love God.

Notice how John links God’s love to us in 4:10 to Christ as “atoning sacrifice”, and recall that it is by his atoning sacrifice that our sins can be forgiven tying God’s love together with His forgiveness. Look carefully and you will see the same approach again in verse 14 where John tells us that by God’s love we have received the Holy spirit and give testimony that Jesus is Savior (by forgiveness of sins). Notice the same linkage in both verse 17 and verse 18 by making reference to the connection between love and forgiveness on the day of judgment. And then go back to the end of verse 17:

In this world we are like Jesus.

What was Jesus like? Jesus was the very embodiment of love in action who brought forgiveness into the world.

The chapter ends with this:

Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (4:21b)

We are commanded to love one another, and what is plain in 1 John 4 is that love is inexorably linked to forgiveness, and how many times should we forgive our brother, seven times?

Well, I think you already know the answer to that one.

Combine this with 1 Corinthians 13:5… love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love forgives first and foremost.

“Church” is not an institution. Rather it is a community of people who love Jesus Christ and wish to follow Him. Yet it is the human condition that as long as each of us is imperfect, we will all sooner or later say or do something that we shouldn’t have said or done. If anyone who reads this believes him or herself immune from error, please let us know in a comment so that we might recognize you for your achievement of perfection!

If on the other hand, you like I myself have not quite achieved such an exalted status just yet, them please understand that you will need forgiveness right along with everyone else at some point in time, and that all of us need to forgive if indeed we love one another, for there is no love without forgiveness. Since church is not an institution, but instead is a collection of believers in community, when someone stumbles, it is our place to love them, not to complain about them to others. If they have upset us, then it is our place to forgive them, not to condemn them, and if we feel that our local congregation is not loving enough, then it is for us to love more and forgive more, not for us to complain more and to become angry, for anger and complaining are not the actions of love.

Does that sound crazy to you?

If so, please remember this: You ARE the church; if you don’t love, then who will?

A Tale of Two Pastors

Thinking Deeper than Skin

church

I read a post last week from a pastor in response to a list made by African American State Senator Jamilah Nasheed of this country’s current injustices, citing her reasons for declining to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Before I tell you about that pastor’s reaction, I’d like to tell you about my pastor’s response to a similar occurrence.

Eric Reid, 49ers safety, who took a knee during the national anthem with Colin Kaepernick, is a member of our church family. Our pastor, who is from European ancestry, knows Eric and knows his heart, but didn’t understand or necessarily agree with the gesture. What did my pastor choose to do?

He reached out to Eric, and asked him if he would be willing to have a video taped conversation to be played for the entire congregation over our four campuses. Our pastor wanted us all to have a better understanding of this issue of racial injustice, and the response to it of many who are taking a knee or sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem.

Before Reid and Kaepernick took a knee, they had a conversation with Nate Boyer, former Army Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks long snapper. One of their goals was to find a way to show respect to the military while still honoring their own protest and beliefs. In the conversation with our pastor, and in other interviews, Eric Reid said:

“Colin was speaking to something that’s very true and prevalent in our country and those issues do need to be addressed and I discussed this with him and prayed about it. We wanted to make a statement but we wanted to be respectful. That’s why we knelt. There have been things that have happened lately that have struck a nerve with me. I mean, we’re America. We should be the best at everything we do. This is bigger than football.

“Tweeting at each other doesn’t accomplish anything. Sitting down with each other face to face, having a conversation with someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you, that’s how you find middle ground, that’s how you find understanding, that’s how you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and that’s how you make our country better.”

“Sitting down with each other face to face, having a conversation with someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you, that’s how you find understanding, that’s how you make our country better.” Eric Reid

The pastor of our church is dedicated to grace, to spiritual maturity, to healing, to reconciliation. He is dedicated to building bridges and community. Thank you, Pastor Steve, for continuing this conversation and for leading and encouraging our ekklesia – gathering of people – to begin this conversation on our own.

So, back to this other pastor.

This pastor stated that he addressed Senator Nasheed’s list of injustices in light of his recent trip to a poverty-stricken, war-torn country, comparing in part the injustices in this country to the injustices of the other country. That is certainly one way to approach the injustices here; however, this pastor could have used his experience to should sharpen his focus on our own injustices, allowing him to contemplate a different cultural perspective. If he could place himself in others’ shoes in another country, why not in ours?

When Senator Nasheed wrote of the injustice of police brutality this other pastor said, “I’m sorry, but I’m sick and tired of this ‘police brutality’ business…Why not compare our supposed brutality to that of the cops in Iran?” Placing “police brutality” in quotes as he did, and preceding it with ‘supposed’ invalidates the experiences of a large portion of our American population. The unexplained death of a woman stopped for a traffic violation and assaulted by the policeman inside of her car for smoking a cigarette is brutality. And that is only a single instance.

When Senator Nasheed listed the injustice of poverty — the underfunding of our public schools, the other pastor wrote, “Seriously, how is being poor an injustice when the poor in this country are infinitely more wealthy than the majority of people in [war torn country]?” Again, that does not invalidate the economy of this country or the systemic differences in the way public schools are funded here. Go into any two public schools – one in a poor, urban community and one in a wealthy suburban area and compare textbooks, libraries, computer labs, science equipment, gymnasiums and sports equipment. It becomes readily evident.

When Senator Nasheed listed the injustice of voter suppression — passing Voter ID laws, the other pastor said, “So it’s injustice – as opposed to being just and lawful – to require that a person placing a vote in an election actually show proof [of] legal citizenship of this country? Do you even understand the definition of ‘justice’” Our American higher courts have defined justice quite clearly.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned North Carolina’s voter I.D. law and stated North Carolina legislators had passed the law with discriminatory intent,” and that its provisions deliberately target African Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to discourage black turnout at the polls.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas that struck down the voter I.D. law found not only that the law discriminated, but that it was intentionally designed to do so.”

A U.S. District Judge in Wisconsin struck down several provision of its State law, stating, “preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement and exist only to suppress votes.

And in North Dakota, a U.S. Federal Judge blocked a law required photo I.D to vote stating, “The public interest in protecting the most cherished right to vote for thousands of Native Americans who currently lack a qualifying ID and cannot obtain one outweighs the purported interest and arguments of the State. No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote.”

No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote.” U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland

Senator Nasheed also listed the injustice of not having health care, the injustice of unlivable wages, the injustice of unequal pay for women, the injustice of mass incarceration and the injustice of economic disparity. The other pastor wrote equally misinformed reactions (equal pay for women: “This a load of absolute baloney;” mass incarceration: “I suppose letting drug dealers, rapists, muggers, back out on the street just because of skin color would be the best choice?”) to the remainder of Senator Nasheed’s list, but I believe this is enough to see the comparison between the two pastors, and my own responses would be too lengthy to go into here.

I will only ask this pastor, as the shepherd of a congregation of Christ’s church – of His ekklesia – wouldn’t it be your mission to provide unity, encouragement, leadership and a safe place to worship for every member of your flock? To be well informed, invite conversations and seek solutions rather than condemnation?

Another of our pastors, Steve Ingold, spoke to us this past Sunday of the need for critical conversations. He said:

“Get to know someone different than you. Get to know their hearts. Choose to listen and understand. Choose to call someone and ask instead of choosing to judge and criticize and distance yourself. We have to do better as His church.” Pastor Steve Ingold, Cornerstone Fellowship

I respectfully and humbly pray this second pastor extends an invitation to lunch to persons of color and to women and begin to ask questions – not as someone superior, not as someone who thinks he knows better, but as someone who is ignorant of the experience of someone different than him, as someone who is humble enough to say, “I don’t know; teach me.

Heretics, Murder and Brotherly Love

A few weeks back I watched “The Tudors” again on Netflix. OK fine, you got me; I binge-watched it!

I had actually seen it some years ago, but enough time had passed so that it was almost like the first time again. As I watched the story of Henry VIII unfold, I was struck with a great sense of thankfulness that I live now and not back then; what a terrible time it was. I must add that I am also thankful that when America was established, our founders went to such great lengths to ensure that no such tyranny could happen here; and so far, their precautions have worked.

Yet more than anything else, I was impressed with the complete lack of understanding that people, at least those in leadership, had of what the Christian faith is all about. To be sure, this is not a Protestant versus Catholic observation, for none of these leaders on either side seemed to have a clue. I suppose that anyone who really did “get” Christianity was murdered, their names lost to history.

The specter of Bishops, Archbishops, even Cardinals  the very people who are supposed to know better, being so full of themselves that they would assert that anyone who disagrees with them on something must be burned alive is almost unbelievable, and yet it happened on a large scale across Europe in those days: Unspeakable evil.

Of course they all knew that there is no teaching remotely akin to this in the New Testament, so why not just make reading the Scriptures a capital offense for anyone outside clerical circles? Some of them did just that. I guess I could rant all day long on this, but history really isn’t my point in writing today…

I wonder: Do we still have the impulse today, to brand other Christians as heretics if they disagree with us on some point of doctrine? Do we belong to church assemblies that assert they are the only ones who are “right” and everybody else is “wrong”? Do our churches assert that they are “true” and all others are not? Do we stick our fingers in others’ faces because they see things a little differently than we do? Do we believe it is a sin for someone to disagree with us on a doctrinal point?

You are welcome to call me crazy, but it seems to me that these things result from the same impulse that used to burn people at the stake, and that these attitudes are still with us.

I have done quite a lot of Bible teaching over my lifetime, in classrooms, in churches, in writing and in various relational environments, and I always do my honest best to be faithful to Scripture. Yet I more than anyone am very much aware of the fact that I am just as imperfect and fallible as the next guy; surely I make my share of mistakes, and I am happy to admit it and make corrections where appropriate. Even as I write this it occurs to me that I’m getting close to doing the very thing by implication that I’m writing against, so let’s be clear; no, you don’t need to do or think as I do! Instead, I would simply encourage you to ask yourself a series of questions, much like those I posed above; do some soul searching, take this to God in prayer, for this is an important issue.

Jesus taught many things during His ministry and the highest of His teachings was that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; He made this all very clear at the end of His ministry when He commanded His disciples to love one another. Doesn’t love require that we not burn one another at the stake, either literally or figuratively?

Well dear friends, at least it’s something to think about, don’t you agree?

Move into Sunday

Statue, Fig, Sculpture, Tiefenschärfe

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.- 1 Peter 5:10 

But on the eighth day and thereafter, they are able to be offered to the Lord.- Leviticus 22:27(b) 

Mary’s virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord’s death escaped the notice of the prince of this world; these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God’s silence.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (498)

I usually don’t start off with scripture or readings from the Catechism. I usually start slow, building up an appetite for godly things. People see the bible and catechism and imagine a different perspective of where the writing may go, telling you what you need to do to be right with God, or simply scaring you away with words that were never intended to be scary. But if we see, as humans, these words as transcendent, as moving, as life in letters, as life-giving, as a life vest, as rescuers, we can become the lifeguard instead of the drowning victim. For God will call us out of the water when he is good and ready. 

Sunday is always our eighth day, no matter where we are, a new chance at renewal, a new year’s resolution, once a week. And I’m beginning to see it in a different light. No matter where you are in your walk of faith, I hope you will too. Entering the church doors or maybe not ready to enter the church doors. You can enter the church doors, your innermost self.  Just enter, and God will be ready to meet you.

Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eighth day” following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday:

(CC 2174)

Sunday provides the pathway and the light. It provides the opportunity to change. It provides a time to ask for forgiveness from the creator. It provides the opportunity to extend forgiveness. And there’s nothing the devil can do about it.

You can stop your addiction, your adultery, your dependence on the world, your anxiety, your depression; YOU CAN START OVER TODAY.

You can be bold, you can be brave, you can be free, you can be who you were created to be; YOU CAN DO IT TODAY.

Sunday is a gift, wrapped up in white, the gift of God, of His Son. Sunday is cleansing, beginning, the gift in and of itself, the gift of the Lord rising, the day to come out of your pit, the day to come out of your suffering. 

Even if the week has plagued you, shaken you, forced you to hide in darkness, the light of Sunday has come. It is an offering, beckoning, Christ with open arms saying, Come to me my child, come to me.

The enemy he cannot touch you, he cannot hurt you, he has fallen. The greatest events this world has ever seen were accomplished without a word from the evil one. And if God’s plan was perfectly executed, Mary’s virginal conception, Christ’s crucifixion and His glorious resurrection, how much more will God’s plan in our own lives be accomplished if we move towards Him, if we move into Sunday.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.- Jesus

The Church as We Know Her

Recently, God started revealing another aspect of this Christian walk that I couldn’t quite figure out for some time. A simple statement someone mentioned opened up a beautiful perspective on the “why.” First, I wanted to explain a little of the background, relevant as to how I’ve come to see things.

It appears many Christian organizations are adamant about defending their stances while claiming Biblical backing. Mostly though, this backing seems skewed. One example (of many), when Paul speaks about deacons and overseers, the requirements wouldn’t be terribly hard for the majority of “laity” today. Yet many in a congregation are relegated to participating in a weekly ritual instead of becoming deacons and overseers as new fellowships form. The requirements have now been elevated beyond the reach of most laypeople. Instead of a spreading, there is a containment in deference to building a ministry upwards instead of letting it flow outwards.

What we see in the early church is an out-flowing as congregations spreaded from house to house and new overseers and deacons became needed to serve these new fellowships. These weren’t paid positions, and they didn’t require the purchasing of buildings and other worldly assets. Instead, any money voluntarily given was used for those who needed it—whether that was inside or outside of that specific congregation. In comparison, much of our money today goes to keeping the machinery running instead of helping others. The small percentage that may go to others is paltry in comparison to the potential impact we could be having in our world.

However, even though the format we’ve established today may (arguably) not be Biblical, there is, admittedly, some movement of the Holy Spirit—if only on rare occasion. This is upheld as irrefutable proof that “our” ministry is right and that if we continue to repeat the same things over and over, the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the same way. In other words, it would seem that we seek containment and control of the Holy Spirit within our doctrinal confines, even though this may not be our conscious intent. We seek to market God to others in the setting and way we’ve predefined, setting limits as to how the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in our world.

This brings me to the question that has been on my mind for some time, but I couldn’t quite resolve—If our modern church entity wasn’t Jesus’ intent (according to how he describes her in the Bible), why do we see an occasional movement within these institutions? I’m not necessarily speaking of an emotionally charged movement (I have honestly never been able to relate to those being such a heavily introverted thinker), but a tangible spiritual awakening of souls when they encounter Jesus “face to face.”

The answer was so simple yet so profound when I came across it—If someone is truly seeking healing (or salvation, or whatever terms we may use), Jesus heals them where they are at, regardless of the faulty systems we create to try to contain his movements. In contrast, Jesus healed me after I had been outside of what we know today as church for over 11 years!

Suddenly, another aspect of the Bible began to crystallize for me. Like Israel demanding a king when they already had God as their Sovereign, we tend to believe we are in need of a hierarchical clergy system when we already have Jesus as our direct High Priest and Shepherd. Our systems only seem to increase the gap between us and Father by eclipsing the direct relationship that was established by the Son in his incarnation and through the victory of the cross. Yet still, this doesn’t stop the Holy Spirit from working. God still works through our broken systems to bring about healing to those who believe that is where healing can be found—even if it furthers our often misguided agendas. Jesus is concerned first and foremost with bringing restoration to the broken in hopes that they will see the beauty of living in his kingdom—the kingdom that isn’t constructed by human hands.

So why don’t we all just participate in the system we have even though it’s imperfect? I’ve come to believe, through no small amount of pain, that some may be called into those systems where God leads them, as was I for a time. Likewise, I believe some may be called outside of those systems, again, where God leads them, as I now have been. However, it would seem our systems do more to inhibit the gospel—the kingdom brought near by Jesus—from spreading in the world than they do to advance it. Likewise, we get a dichotomy of in versus out that only serves to harm our witness to the watching world—where we are called to love one another. So many hurting people are seeing how much professed Christians hate each other, partially because of our “in” or “out” statuses and partially because of our rigidness. These battered souls are choosing instead to pass altogether on seeking healing if it only seeks to convert them to a “side” in that same conflict.

Our call is to humbly embrace our “in” or “out” brothers and sisters and allow those who need healing to follow the Holy Spirit to a place they can find just that. Perhaps we need more fluidity to move with the Holy Spirit as it moves like the wind to where those in need reside. Instead, the dogmas we’ve created, both inside and out, serve as walls that we are continually hindered by. This not only hurts our witness, but it keeps us from truly loving each other on a deeper, spiritual level.

This is a rough lesson God has been walking me through over the past 2.5 years on the outside, and there are still plenty of snares and diversions that seek to drag me away from pursing such love for others. Still, I believe Jesus’ Church will survive and become stronger regardless of our human attempts to bend her to our worldly agendas—whether those reside inside or outside of an institution.

A Soldier’s Duty

When our battalion was called together, I wondered if it had something to do with the rumors that the Jews were on the verge of rioting. Pilate just released a rebel leader to them to calm them down, but maybe extra precautions were being taken.

When we arrived in the governor’s headquarters, there was a man there badly scourged. Some of the soldiers stripped him and made him wear a royal scarlet garment. Then, they twisted together a crown of thorns, placed it on his head, and gave him a reed for a scepter. As blood tricked down the prisoner’s head, they began kneeling and saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.” We laughed uproariously and then spit on him, as most of us were miserable with the predicament at this posting. One soldier took the reed and struck the prisoner on the head repeatedly.

When we were done venting our frustration, the other soldiers replaced the prisoner’s original clothes. I was assigned the duty, along with several others, to escort this prisoner to his execution. This wasn’t anything new as I’d assisted with many crucifixions since I’d been assigned to this garrison.

As we made our way towards Golgotha, the prisoner was barely able to carry his own cross. Yet, as beaten and bloody as he was, he seemed determined to make the journey.

“So what’d this guy do?” I asked one of my fellow soldiers.

“Claimed he was the Son of God, so his own people want him dead. They even stated that he was a threat to Caesar by his claims.” he replied.

Okay, I suppose that makes sense, especially since the Caesars claim to be sons of god. Do they really execute people for that though? Sure, lock him up for being crazy maybe, but this seems a bit extreme. Perceiving my thoughts, the other soldier just shrugged. I guess if it’s our duty to execute, we execute.

It seems most of the crowd hated this Jesus fellow, so I guess we didn’t have to worry too much about the zealots today. Though, there were a handful of people weeping as they followed us on to Golgotha—probably some close friends and family members. Suddenly, the prisoner turned and made a statement that sounded like Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. He spoke with such conviction, yet he still had such compassion in his voice, as though he was sorrowful if such a thing were to happen to the very people condemning him.

Not much longer after that, the prisoner collapsed. Some of the soldiers tried to get him back on his feet while the rest of us watched the crowd. Suddenly a man stepped out and looked directly at me. I quickly readied my spear, but then noticed his composure. He had tears running down his face and his hands were together upright in front of him. I believe this symbolized that he had no weapons or intent of violence. As I relaxed my defensive posture, still unsure of what the man wanted, he looked over to the prisoner on the ground.

This man’s actions caused a slight ache in my heart. This must have been a good friend of his for him to risk his very life by interfering in an execution. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do. If the centurion saw him, he might run him through or arrest him. I suppose I can do something to help him out. At first I thought to push him back into the crowd before the others noticed, but they might think a fight was about to break out.

After a moment’s thought, I stated loudly “You, help this man carry his cross.” I glanced over towards the centurion and he seemed to be okay with this solution.

After a long trudge, we finally reached the top of the hill. The assistant laid the cross down, then gently rested the prisoner beside it. While the other soldiers were beginning to prepare the crucifixion, I stepped aside to talk to the man who had assisted.

“Who are you…and why’d you do that?” I asked, “Why would you risk your life for a man who’s already dead anyway?”

“I’m Simon, and…” he stated as he struggled to restrain his tears, “he showed me mercy when I didn’t deserve it….He really is the Son of God…and he’s doing this for all of us….including you.” With that, my heart stopped mid-beat. There was something in this man’s words, as though he had been through an unfathomable experience. Could there be something more to this Jesus? Could he really be divinity?

“Hey,” the centurion bellowed from behind me in the midst of my thoughts, “I’ll hold him, you hammer in the spikes.” Oh no, anything but that. The centurion shook the hammer slightly suggesting that I hurry up and take it. Reluctantly, I did. Then he handed me three long spikes.

As I aligned the first spike to Jesus’ hand, I hesitantly raised the hammer. I looked over to Jesus who had quite a peaceful expression considering the ordeal he had been through. My eyes began to fill with tears as thoughts invaded my head again. If he really is the Son of God….if I do this. “Oh God….please forgive me,” I repeated over and over in my head, still trying to make my trembling arm take the first swing.

“I…” a voice weakly murmured. I looked around a bit confused until my eyes settled on Jesus’. “I forgive you,” he said with the glimmer of a smile on his face. I felt a shiver go through my whole body. Had he read my thoughts? Why would he forgive me? Did he want to be crucified? Why…Why was he doing this?

The centurion didn’t seem to take any notice of Jesus’ comment. Jesus’ eyes stayed fixed on me as I saw a resolute expression come across his face. A peace began to fill me, and I felt that bringing down the hammer was what I was destined to do. I struck the first blow and he grunted. Then he opened his eyes and nodded for me to continue. With that, I struck another blow and another as tears started streaming down my face.

As I completed fastening the second hand, the centurion took notice of my tears. “Are you alright? What happened?” he asked bluntly.

“I’m fine. I just..hit my thumb on that last swing and it really hurts,” I replied.

“Do you want me to finish?” he retorted.

“No! I got it!” I exclaimed a little more forcibly than intended. I didn’t want to place anyone else is such a horrible position.

I finished driving the spike through his feet, then we affixed the notice that Pilate had ordered be attached. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”A shiver again traveled through my body as I read the sign.

The next few hours seemed like an eternity. I would rather have been on the front lines of a war than watching this man die. Many hurled insults as they passed. Some of the other soldiers joined in as well while Jesus’ cloths were being divided up just below him. Even the two robbers on each side mocked him. I hung my head in shame, remembering my actions in the governor’s quarters not even a few hours earlier.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus stated remorsefully as he tilted his head slightly upward. He then looked down directly at me and a bolt of lightning shot through my body. Here he was….crucified….and he’s forgiving the ones persecuting him. There’s definitely something more to him.

When one of the thieves heard Jesus’ forgiveness, he too became remorseful, and even started defending him. He then asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom. Jesus responded kindly—that they would be feasting in Paradise that very day! This Jesus fellow seemed, even in his bleakest hour, to be filled with more compassion than anyone I had ever known.

Then, a darkness began to encroach. At first, I thought the sun was just going behind the clouds, but this became a much thicker darkness than I’d ever seen during daylight hours. I became more aware of the surroundings as I took note of each person still there. Most were familiar except a young man standing out in the edge of the darkness. He too looked to be weeping. One of the other soldiers suggested it was probably a disciple of Jesus’, too afraid to come close in case he was recognized.

Suddenly, Jesus cried out. Simon quickly prepared a drink while some others passing by thought he was calling a prophet from their history. They lingered around for the moment to see if perhaps this prophet would show up. A few moments later, a woman came frantically running out of the darkness. Her pace slowed as she got close enough to recognize the figure on the center cross. I could see the horror on her face as she stood there in shock. Then, tears began streaming down her face as she fell to her knees. I looked over to the soldier next to me, and he seemed just as perplexed as I was, though Simon had more of a shocked expression, as though he knew her.

“This isn’t right!” she screamed unexpectedly. I felt the tears welling up in me as she rocked back and forth and repeated the statement over and over.

As the woman quieted to a sob, we heard a resolute “It is finished” from above us and we all looked up to see an immensely passionate look on Jesus’ face. Tears began streaming from my eyes again as he exhaled one last time, then hung lifeless.

Simon approached the crying woman cautiously and attempted to console her. At first, she seemed startled that Simon was there, but to his surprise, she jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him. They both wept passionately. I sat in awe wondering how they might know each other as they seemed to be from two totally different walks of life. Was this Jesus fellow bringing such diverse people together?

I stood and moved closer, compelled by the compassion still on Jesus’ face. The tears were still running down my cheeks, though I’m not sure if anyone else noticed—and at that moment, I no longer cared.

Just then we got an order from Pilate. We were to remove the body from the cross and give it to a Joseph of Arimathea.

“Okay,” the centurion remarked, “I guess it’s over.” With that, he readied his spear and looked to the body hesitantly. After a small sigh, he plunged his spear into Jesus’ side. I looked on in horror as blood and water poured out, but Jesus didn’t make a move; he was already gone. My heart sank as tears continued to roll down my face. If he really was the Son of God, why didn’t he save himself? And why was he doing this for us?

Without warning, the earth began to shake violently. The other soldiers fell to the ground and I collapsed to my knees while still focused on Jesus. Oddly, it seemed while everything else was in upheaval, I felt an indescribable peace kneeling there before him.

When the shaking finally stopped, light again filled the sky, and I quickly tried to wipe the tears from my face. The centurion, noticing my composure, began walking towards me. I prepared myself for reprimand—or worse—but instead…he gently laid his hand on my shoulder. As I braced myself on my spear and stood to my feet, all those still around drew in closer. Even the disciple that had been off in the distance dared to approach now. I looked up again to the lifeless body on the cross, and my heart was overwhelmed. I was now sure of it, more than anything else I’d ever known.

“Truly, this was the Son of God!”