Tag Archives: passover

A Day at Temple Israel: Passover and the Holocaust

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had the distinct honor today of being a guest speaker at the end of the final Passover service for Norfolk’s Temple Israel Synagogue. They are a Conservative synagogue that is quite active in the community here. I met their Rabbi, Michael Panitz last year at a Navy Exchange Command Diversity Celebration. In the months following we have become friends and as I remain in the area after I retire from the military hopefully become close colleagues in the fight for religious rights as intended by the Bill of Rights.

I spoke on the topic of Bearing Witness in an age where the witnesses to the Holocaust are passing away and Holocaust Denial and anti-Semitism are rising, with a commensurate increase in anti-Semitic and racial base. Even today as we were finishing the service in Norfolk a synagogue in The area of San Diego came under attack by a gunman armed with an AR type assault rifle. He killed one and wounded three worshippers before surrendering to the police. In the hours before his attack the terrorist had published an anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant manifesto.

Truthfully I was worried about something like that happening in Norfolk today, thankfully nothing like that happened, the Norfolk Police had officers stationed at both entrances. I don’t know if anyone in the local area was thinking about or planning anything, but you never know. I was just grateful that nothing happened here.

I have to say that today was most interesting. It was the first time I have attended a Jewish Passover service and despite the fact that I couldn’t understand half or more of the service because it was in Hebrew, I still found it fascinating. In it I could see where Some of or Catholic and other liturgical Christian traditions come from, and I could not help but to reverence the Scrolls of the Talmud as they were processed down the aisles of the sanctuary and taken back to the Tabernacle; the psalms and songs led by the Cantor, scripture readings and prayers, including for the prayers for our ancestors who have died was for me fascinating. Of course through my study of liturgy I knew this, but for the first time to see it was very humbling. As a Christian I could see the debt that we owe to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

What I talked about was received well, many of the congregation members came up,to me afterwards to thank me and tell me how much they learned and how it affected them. Likewise, they encouraged me to keep teaching, writing, and making pilgrimage to the sites that I have not yet visited.

We live in very dangerous times. We have to heed the words of Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

As I mentioned last night this will be part of my post military mission, to teach, to write, and to take people to these places where millions were murdered by the Nazis and their allies.

As Ellie Wiesel noted: “For the dead and the living we must bear witness.”

I must bear witness.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Good Friday and the Men Who Wash their Hands Of Responsible for Failing to uphold the Law.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today is Good Friday and so unless something really unusual and earth shattering occurs I am going to take the Easter weekend to do some reflection, including on some spiritual topics. In light of that I am simply going to post three of my older fictional accounts of that weekend today, tomorrow and Sunday while I spend most of my time preparing for a talk at Temple Israel in Norfolk next week about bearing witness to the Holocaust even as the last survivors and witnesses pass from their journey on this earth.

There are a number of other articles in the series that cover all of Holy Week. If you want to read them those stories are on the site,

As a genre this series falls in the realm of historical fiction, which means that while they may be set in a historical event, that they are fiction. Likewise, I admit that they and the main character are more a reflection of me, and my journey, and my over-active imagination, than my cursory study of Roman and New Testament History. Likewise, I reject any claim that the Jewish people as a whole were at fault in the death of Jesus the Nazarene. Of the people directly involved on that weekend, there was much blame to be passed around, but to ascribe the ultimate blame to the Jews and justify the persecution of Jewish people two millennia after that weekend is despicable. To label them as “Christ Killers” is only something a Nazi or Christian version of the Taliban would do. So as you read this and the next few articles please keep that in mind. Likewise, keep in mind that political and religious leaders like Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas, soldiers like Longinus and his men, and traitors like Judas are no different than people of any age, people like you and me. That is why whether you are a Christian or not, the narrative of Easter is profoundly human, and points to more things about humanity that we would rather ignore, than to the more positive attributes of humanity. That is why, despite the message of Easter, we have to remember the words of the Jewish Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Honestly, that is also the lesson of Good Friday and Easter, regardless of whether you believe or don’t. So if you take the time to read the Passion narrative, remember that we are all possible victims, perpetrators, or bystanders. That being said, have a nice weekend, and if you do it, have a nice Easter. If you don’t do Easter, I wish you well. If you are Jewish have a nice Passover, or if you are something else or an unbeliever, just have a nice weekend.

But please take the time to ponder, whether on Good Friday or in Nazi Germany, would you be a victim, perpetrator, or bystander? Even if the story of Good Friday and Easter is nothing more than a myth there are human lessons to be learned, even for a President, an Attorney General, and their hosts of propagandists and supporters who turn their eyes from injustice and seek vengeance on the innocent.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Longinus had finally decided to try to get a bit of rest. After his rather morose meeting with Flavius and Decius he and Decius went back to check on the preparations for the executions scheduled for the next day. Quentin his Tesserarius had been working with the squad chosen to to conduct the actual crucifixions of the prisoners, Bar-Abbas the insurgent as well as the common criminals and murderers Dismas and Gestas who he had met in the hell hole of a jail in the dungeon of Fortress Antonia after Pilate had assigned him the task of conducting the executions.

Longinus was certain of his unit’s ability to carry out the mission, though he would have rather had a unit from Italy than his unit of Syrian and Samaritan troops. There was one positive aspect, his Samaritans and Syrians had no love for the Jews and would have no qualms whatsoever in disposing of the criminals.

He thought for a moment about the prisoners. That Bar-Abbas fellow, he would be glad that he or any other Roman would have to deal with him again once the crucifixion was over. As for the common criminals he felt that everyone would be better off with Gestus dead although he hoped that Pilate might take pity on the repentant thief named Dismas. However, despite his feelings he also knew that the law was the law and repentant or not that Dismas was guilty of the crimes and the sentence was just. As he had realized earlier in the day while talking with Flavius it was important not to become emotionally involved with the locals, especially prisoners. Maintaining an emotional distance ensured that he would not flinch in times when ice rather than blood needed to flow through one’s veins. He was proud that he could do this but envied the humanity that his comrade and friend Flavius still maintained in spite of everything.

He was just about to prepare for bed when a messenger from Pilate knocked on his door. It was late, too late and Longinus wondered just what was going on.

“Come.” He said, the weariness in his voice obvious in the way he answered.

The messenger, a relatively young Italian soldier assigned to Pilate’s bodyguard entered, came to attention and saluted.

Longinus looked at the young man, like him far from home and asked “what am I needed for now?”

“Centurion, the Governor has requested your presence” the soldier replied.

“May I ask what for?” A now increasingly irritated Longinus asked.

“Sir, I do not have the details but it is a pressing matter regarding the Jews and that Galilean preacher.” The young man was obviously uncomfortable in having to request a career officer like Longinus, a veteran of real battles and campaigns appear before Pilate for what was not much more than a religious dispute among an occupied people.

“Pressing matter?” Asked Longinus.

“Yes Centurion. I was told that it was urgent that you come to Governor Pilate now and alert your unit as at least some of your men may be needed if things get out of hand.”

“Can you please tell me just what is going on?” Longinus asked as he pulled his armored breastplate over his shoulders.

“I’m sorry Centurion, I have no more information. You are to report to the Governor within the half hour. The Governor wants your unit ready within the hour.” When he finished he came to attention, saluted and exited the room.

Longinus hated how leaders sent young men to be their messengers and would not give them all of the relevant information.

He then sat back down in his chair where he had been sitting and discussing the situation with Flavius and Decius. He wondered to himself what could be so pressing that Pilate needed him now.

After briefing Decius and Quentin, instructing them to wake the men and be ready for action Longinus took a squad and went to Pilate’s headquarters. When he arrived Pilate greeted him.

“Centurion, I hate to have bothered you at this hour in light of how busy you and your men will be in the morning but a situation has arisen.” Longinus looked around the room and then heard some commotion on the area called “the Pavement.

“What is happening my Lord?”

“Longinus, these Jews have brought that Jesus fellow here and are accusing him of fomenting a rebellion against the Emperor.”

“A rebellion sir?”

“That is what they say Centurion. They claim that one of his closest associates had turned him in and after a trial of their own that they found him guilty of claiming to be a king and God that will overthrow the Emperor.” Pilate could not hide his discomfort.

“Do you actually believe them sir? After all we had heard this morning that this Judas Iscariot fellow had betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver.”

“I know Centurion, I know.” Pilate looked at Longinus then back out at the crowd gathered outside in the dark. He was afraid and Longinus could sense that fear, fear that if he made the wrong move that a real rebellion could break out and that Pilate as the Governor would take the blame and bear the punishment and wrath of Caesar.

“Centurion, I tried to placate these people be questioning this Jesus fellow myself.” Pilate paused. “I must say that he is a rather unusual man and truthfully I could not find anything that under Roman law that I could find him guilty of doing. Not a thing Centurion, nothing but their leaders kept pressing me.” Pilate’s gaze seemed to be almost pleading with Longinus to help him escape this decision. Longinus knew at that moment that his day was about to get worse. Pilate continued “It seems to be a religious squabble of some kind so in order to deal with it and to try to keep us out of it I sent Jesus to Herod since Herod is the ruler of Galilee.”

“So Herod will certainly deal with the situation, will he not Governor?”

“Centurion, I thought that too. I thought that the corpulent bastard Herod would deal with it but I just got word that Herod too could find no crime. The Jewish leaders and of their Temple Police are supposedly bringing him back to me to render judgment. They are leaving it to me.”

“Judgment for what?”

“Sedition, treason, blasphemy, proclaiming himself a king.” Pilate paused, his face flushed. “My God I’m surprised that they haven’t accused the man of fathering the High Priest’s daughter.” The sarcasm and bitterness was evident in his voice.

“So what do you intend to do.”

“I intend to try to get us out of this with as little trouble or guilt as possible. When they return him to me I will ask a few more questions and set him free as is my prerogative, certainly they wouldn’t want to release a real murderer like Bar-Abbas back into society, I do give them more credit than to stoop that low.”

“I do hope that you are right governor, but from what I understand it seems that they are intent on ridding themselves of the fellow once and for all. I think that their leaders see the Galilean as more of a threat than a man like Bar-Abbas.”

Pilate said nothing and during the silence Longinus’s troops under the direction of Decius entered the perimeter of the court adding an additional security cordon as the crowd grew and got more boisterous. As they took up position the Temple Police and members of the High Priest’s entourage approached the court with the Galilean in custody. Quentin with four soldiers met them and took custody of the obviously tired and already abused man. They delivered Jesus to Pilate and stood back. Longinus watched as it happened. As he did so Flavius entered the room with his servant. The servant appeared unsteady and full of emotion when he saw the man who had healed him two years before. Flavius stood by his face not betraying any feelings except deep-seated rage that was boiling as he saw this travesty of justice take place.

Pilate attempted every trick in the book to garner a way to save the life of the man standing before him. He asked him questions and Jesus clothed in a purple robe that Herod had mockingly placed upon him said nothing. Finally in desperation Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. The answer both fascinated and terrified Pilate and caused him to wish that he had never come to the city. As he deliberated earlier and debated the members of the Sanhedrin his wife again urged him to “have nothing to do with that innocent man.”

But the answer of Jesus to the question of his kingship troubled Pilate. Had he thought the man insane he would have scourged him, declared him mad and been done with the affair.

“My kingdom is not of this world, if it were my followers would be fighting to ensue that you did not hand me over to the Jewish leaders.” Jesus looked into Pilate’s eyes, the look sent a chill through Pilate’s soul and so he restated the question “so you are a king?”

Jesus replied solemnly “You say I am a king. I was born for this and it is why I came to this world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.”

Pilate appeared stunned and both Longinus and Flavius knew that Pilate, the consummate politician and man of intrigue was beaten. They listened as Pilate asked “what is truth?” The question was one of a man who had long ago sold his soul to gain the world, it was the question of a deeply cynical man who had long determined that truth was only in the eye of the beholder and to be used as needed to acquire power. At the same time they could see a touch of genuineness in the question as Pilate, desperate for an answer that would enable him to please everyone and spare the life of the man before him wrestled with the question of truth for the first time in years.

They watched as Pilate attempted to bargain for the life of Jesus only to be shouted down by the increasingly riotous crowd who demanded that Bar-Abbas be released. Again attempting to assuage the mob he had Jesus scourged with a barbed whip. The soldier who did that brutal work was a Syrian, big and burley without a trace of feeling in his eyes or face. The servant of Flavius begged him to intervene but Flavius now knew that the things happening to Jesus could no longer be influenced by sentimentality and stories of the goodness of Jesus. He had seen this type of Justice before, and though he despised it, he earnestly hoped that it would be enough to deliver Jesus.

After the scourging, soldiers assigned to Longinus jammed a crown of thorns down on the blood covered Jesus and placed the purple cloak over him. Jesus’s body trembled. Pilate again approached the mob and tried to decline the odious responsibility thrust into his hands. The mob led by the Chief Priests and joined by man of their rivals, the Pharisees cried out for Jesus to be crucified.

They heard Pilate plead with Jesus, again noting that he had power over the life and death of Jesus to which Jesus replied that Pilate “had no power over him that had not been given by God.” Finally he pleaded with the Jews one more time to take Bar-Abbas for execution and to spare the Galilean. The leaders shouted him down again and cried out that Pilate would be “a traitor to Caesar” if he let a man who claimed to be a king live.

Defeated By the mob and by his own weakness of character Pilate asked for a ceremonial washing basin full of water. When it came in the hands of a court member he placed his hands in it and proclaimed “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” He then ordered the soldiers to take Jesus to be crucified even as the prisoners Dismas and Gestus were led from the dungeon for execution and a profoundly perplexed Bar-Abbas was released by the jailer.

Longinus looked at Flavius and whispered to him “wash my hands of his blood? My God, he knows that he is as guilty as them.” Flavius looked on and simply said, “I know my friend, we all are.”

The small cohort of soldiers assigned to the crucifixion detail were commanded by Quentin, a man who had fought many battles, and like Longinus and Flavius felt that these executions of helpless prisoners were unworthy of soldiers like himself. The soldiers of Flavius’s unit had responsibility for helping to clear a way down the narrow street called by the Romans Via Delarosa, or The street of suffering. It was the street that all the condemned travelled to the hill of execution so fittingly called the place of the Skull. Longinus had seen others walk this path but in the past he had been able to shield his person from their suffering, but today was different.

Longinus’s own execution squad led by Quentin led Jesus and the others along, forcing them to carry their crosses. About halfway down the street Jesus collapsed under the weight if his cross and grabbed a bystander, a man from Cyrene to carry the cross while the soldiers prodded the bloody body of Jesus down the street and out of the city to the place of execution. People jeered at the condemned as they did at very execution as for most this was no different than any other crucifixion and most of those present knew little about any of the condemned men and even those that were familiar with Jesus probably did not recognize the bloody man stumbling down the street. Of course there were others present who did know Jesus and watched in horror as their friend, teacher and for one woman her son struggled to the execution site. Longinus wondered about his own elderly mother and thought of her as he saw the mother of Jesus. He quickly tried to chase her image from his mind, he needed to be strong and hard if he was to keep his objectivity and conduct the mission as distasteful as he found it.

When the macabre parade arrived at the hill, the prisoners were stripped, placed on the crosses and nailed to them. Their screams as Quentin hammered the large iron nails home through their already abused flesh echoed for all to hear. Thankfully Quentin knew what he was doing and this part of the execution process happened quickly. Then the crosses were raised, but just before this a messenger from Pilate arrived with the placards that denoted the charges. He handed them to Longinus who noted what was written on the one for Jesus. It said “The King of the Jews.”

The placards were placed and with a thud the crosses were placed in the holes on the hill. The suffering of the prisoners was great, the crowds jeered and mocked them while those that loved them stood at a distance. Soldiers stood guard to ensure that no one interfered with them in any way. There was a bit of banter between the real criminals one of whom, the unpleasant one named Gestus joined in the mocking of Jesus only to be put in his place by the other one named Dismas.

Longinus, Flavius, Decius and a few other officers watched as their soldiers from the crucifixion detail divided the paltry worldly possession of the men between themselves. The men argued over a one piece tunic worn by Jesus, Not wanting to destroy it they cast lots for it. A trooper from Tyre won the tunic. Longinus and Flavius looked at each other and realized how little most of their men earned and neither begrudged the men the few items that they gathered from the men being executed.

The skies which had began the day with bright sunshine now became dark and foreboding. Lightening appeared in the distance and occasionally Jesus would address his mother or one man, Flavius believed him to be a disciple who stood by the cross. Jesus even promised the Dismas character that “he would be with him in paradise” and told others, Longinus thought the soldiers but he wasn’t sure “forgive them they know not what they do.” As it approached the ninth hour Jesus cried out in Aramaic “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

A cold rain began to fall.

Quentin approached him with a sponge on a pole which was soaked in a sour wine. It touched Jesus’s lips and Jesus said “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and then “it is finished.”

With that last dying remark the head of Jesus fell to his chest and his body, bloody and mangled hung limp. As the men looked on the ground began to tremble and as the ground shook and the officers looked about amid the gloom and confusion as the onlookers took flight Longinus exclaimed “surely this man was the son of God.” Flavius looked at his fellow Centurion in astonishment. Longinus, the man who had closed his heart in a fortress was echoing what he had believed since Jesus had healed his servant, the young man who was more than a servant to him.

As the crowds dispersed Longinus received the message that the executions had to be concluded before the Jews began their Passover. With that he sent Quentin to break the legs of the prisoners to hasten their deaths. When Quentin reached Jesus he called for Longinus.

“Centurion, I believe that this man is already dead. Do you still want me to break his legs?”

Longinus looked up at the bloody corpse and then at his subordinate and said “no I must do this myself.” He had a soldier bring him his lance, a ceremonial lance that denoted his seniority as the senior Centurion in the Legion. He looked at the lance and plunged it into the side of Jesus into his heart. Jesus did not move but from the wound blood mixed with what looked like water poured out of the wound and down his side.

“Quentin, he is dead, you may take him down.” Other soldiers pulled down the dead bodies of the thieves. As they did this a man approached Longinus and Flavius.

“Gentlemen. I am Joseph, I am a member of the Sanhedrin. I have come to take responsibility for the body of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Longinus replied in a businesslike manner “by whose authority?” He had a hard time believing that a member of the Sanhedrin would claim this body.

With that Joseph produced a letter from Pilate. Longinus looked the letter over and handed it back to Joseph without comment. Joseph then motioned to several men with him to take the body as Longinus, Flavius and the others looked on. Longinus thought to himself that it was good that a man of some means and influence would at least take the time to give this innocent man a decent burial.

As Quentin took charge of the cleanup Longinus instructed Decius to prepare the troops to return to Fortress Antonia. Flavius instructed his optimo to do the same. The last thing that any of them wanted to be was on the streets when the Jews began their Passover, as always they decided that it was unwise to stir up any more animosity than was needed. Today was a near run thing with e demonstration outside Pilate’s headquarters and none of them wanted any more excitement this evening.

When the clean up was completed and the bodies removed Longinus and Flavius ordered their soldiers back to Fortress Antonia. When they arrived the Centurions went to Pilate to inform him that the mission was complete. Pilate was glad the ordeal was over but was obviously still disturbed by the events of the day. Longinus, now exhausted was glad to leave Pilate’s presence. He still loathed politicians and wondered if had Pilate been a soldier if he would have had the courage to tell the leaders of the Sanhedrin to “pound sand” and keep Jesus alive. But then he knew that had Pilate done something that only a diplomat could do, he kept the peace. Had he been in charge the man named Jesus might have lived but hundreds maybe even thousands of others might have died.

After he dismissed his soldiers he went to his room, doffed his gear and went to the tavern in the fortress. Flavius joined him about 15 minutes later. They sat at the table as the barkeeper brought them each an ale. They looked at each other and Flavius asked “What did you mean by surely this man was the son of God?”

Longinus shook his head. “My friend I do not really know.” He paused and took a drink from his cup. “Until today I simply figured that he was a good man, but after today, after what I witnessed I just don’t know.”

“If you ask me my friend I think that he must be a God, if not somehow connected to the greatest of Gods, the God of the Jews.”

“Perhaps Flavius you are right. All I know is that I can no longer see the world, the Empire or my life in the same light as I did just a week ago.”

Flavius nodded his understanding as Decius entered the tavern. The younger officer reported to his seniors. They acknowledged his entrance and Longinus asked the younger officer to sit with them.

“What do you know Decius?”

The younger officer spoke. “Sir, I do not know if you heard the latest about the man that betrayed Jesus.”

Longinus asked sarcastically “did they elect him High Priest?”

The younger man caught the sarcasm and replied “if only that we’re the case. He was found dead, hanging from a tree in the Potter’s Field.”

Flavius answered: “So the traitor couldn’t handle the consequences of his own act of duplicity?”

Longinus replied, “Evidently not, it serves the bastard right.” He took a drink from his cup and motioned for the barkeep to get Decius a cup of ale too. The three men continued to drink silently and wondered what else could happen…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Easter Special: Trouble in River City the Centurion’s Easter: An Empty Tomb, Duplicitous Politicians and a Lingering Question

The pounding on his door awakened Longinus before he expected on this day after the Jewish Passover. He was hoping perhaps beyond hope that the worst was over and that in a few days he could take his soldiers back to the confines of Caesarea and away from the troubled city of Jerusalem. He was tired of this duty and longed for service with a real Legion with real Roman soldiers. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and went to the door of his quarters in Fortress Antonia.  He opened the door to find his Adjutant Marcus with a look of near panic on his face.

He asked the young officer to come into his quarters and take a seat at his table. He took a wineskin and poured the contents into two cups. He asked Marcus what was so urgent and frightening that he had to be at his quarters well before the duty day began. The young man took off his helmet to reveal a crop of blondish brown hair common to the Tyrol in the northern part of Italy and told an almost unbelievable story. He explained that there was trouble at the tomb of the itinerant preacher named Jesus. The two guards from their unit who had relieved the previous watch at the tomb had evidently fallen asleep and there had been a break in.  They claimed that they had been overcome when some kind of angelic being who had descended in front of them and some of the women who had been at the execution site previously.  The story seemed preposterous but Longinus could not believe that they had fallen asleep on duty either as such could be punished by a death sentence.  Adding to the confusion was a report that two of the preacher’s “disciples” had reportedly entered the tomb and claimed that the body was gone as had some of the women that had been there at the crucifixion.  It was unbelievable but yet in light of the strangeness of the man and his execution.  Longinus had the Adjutant bring the two soldiers to him along with the Sergeant of the Guard to explain what had happened.

The two soldiers, one a Samaritan and the other a Greek had good reputations in the unit. Neither had given him cause for concern and the terrified expression on their faces as they explained what happened gave Longinus reason to believe them. Yes it was possible that they were lying but Longinus believed their story. I found that not to believe them and their story that they heard the angel or whatever it was tell the women that the preacher had been raised from the dead. Longinus was not much of a believer in miracles angels or any sort of magic hocus pocus purveyed by seers, magicians or fortune tellers but here he was believing this outlandish story because to disbelieve would mean that there was a serious breakdown of discipline by two outstanding soldiers. He had some soldiers that he wouldn’t believe for an Athenian minute if they told him such a tale but he believed these men and he again thought of his words as the preacher hung dying on the cross on that evil hill.

Longinus went to Pilate’s headquarters when he and the other Centurions were participants in a meeting with the High Priest and his representatives and two of Herod’s people.  The meeting reminded him of a meeting of criminals.  The High Priest and his representatives were livid and Herod’s henchmen voiced their displeasure regarding the lapse of the Roman soldiers that allowed this to happen. Longinus spoke for his men and said that as improbable as it was that he believed their story. That only made the non-Romans angrier; he almost thought that they were engaging Pilate in some histrionic episode in order to force Pilate to do their bidding. They insisted that Longinus’ soldiers had to have fallen asleep and or that they had conspired with the preacher’s followers to remove the body from the tomb. This angered Longinus to the point that he interrupted their ranting to defend his men’s honor. Pilate finally ordered Longinus and the High Priest to be silent.  He asked the non-Romans to step outside while he conferred with Longinus and the other Centurions.

Pilate explained his dilemma. He was afraid that if he sent the High Priest away by supporting his soldiers that there would be a revolt in the streets. He had seen the tumult on the streets by the supporters of the High Priest when he tried to release the “King of the Jews” and felt that this would be worse for security. He advised the Centurions that while he had no reason to doubt them or their men that he had to placate the High Priest and Herod in order to avoid chaos, chaos that could lose him his job if he wasn’t careful. Likewise he did not feel that he had the manpower in the city to handle a full-fledged revolt and that he would have to call for reinforcements from the Legions based in Syria, something that he was loathe to do as this would get back to the Emperor.

Longinus thought back to the day of the execution.  Pilate had agreed to place a guard at the tomb at the urging of the High Council. Longinus had argued against placing any soldiers at the tomb as he felt that since the “King of the Jews” them man that he had called the “son of God” was dead that Rome’s obligation was over. The whole thing reeked of politics, Longinus was overruled by Pilate who explained that Roman soldiers needed to guard the tomb because the High Priest who Longinus detested as much as Pilate insisted that Jesus’ followers would attempt to steal the body and claim that he had been raised from the dead to lead a revolt against the Council and eventually Rome itself.  Added to the Judean witches’ cauldron was Herod, the corpulent and corrupt “King” of Judea.  If Longinus detested Pilate and Caiaphas he hated Herod and all that he stood for, it made him wonder why Roman lives and treasure were spent to solve the problems of this God-forsaken land which he believed would still be trouble two millennia from now if the world lasted that long. Longinus believed that as long as Rome allowed the High Council and Herod to rule the region by proxy that the troubles would never end. He believed that it was only a matter of time before these people, led by the Zealots would revolt as they had against the Seleucids nearly 200 years before. He knew if that happened that Rome would crush the revolt and not leave as much as a house standing.  He hated this occupation and all that it stood for, especially when he saw a good man, an innocent man killed for no good reason other than the politics of it all. It sickened him.

When he was done explaining his decision to Longinus and the other Centurions he called the now quite irate non-Romans back into the proceedings.  He told the High Priest and Herod’s men that he would disciple the soldiers involved and he would assist them in finding just what parties removed the body from the tomb.  In the mean time he would suppress any stories coming from the soldiers about this supposed “resurrection.”  The High Priest and Herod’s men agreed that this would suffice and thanked Pilate for his time and effort. Longinus and the other Centurions quietly seethed as this took place. When the non-Roman parties had left Pilate ensured the officers that no action would be taken against the men and that he would not actively assist the Jews in trying to find the perpetrators of the event. He then let the officer know that they would remain in Jerusalem for another week to allow the multitude of pilgrims to leave the city and then they would return to Caesarea.

Longinus left with the others and met his Adjutant and stepped into the court of the fortress. He was very unhappy with the deal that Pilate made with the High Priest and Herod.  He felt that he had dishonored his soldiers and the unit for the sake of political expediency. He felt ashamed of the Empire for what Pilate had done in cooperating with these people from beginning to end during this affair. He would not forget.

That night he felt compelled to walk to the empty tomb.  In the darkness he looked into the sepulcher aided by a lantern. He saw the grave cloths where they remained; the large stone was rolled away and the seal that had been placed on it was broken.  He looked for any evidence to suggest that his soldiers had fallen asleep but could not find any.  Nor did he see how anyone could have stolen the body and gotten very far without being seen by anyone. Convinced by what he saw he set down in the tomb and thought about this man.  He looked at ground where the body had been placed.  In the dim light he noticed what appeared to be some thorns.  He reached down He would have to find out more about him if he truly was the son of God.

He walked back to the fortress when he went to the Officer’s Mess and had the steward pour him some wine. He drank quite a few before the evening was out and then went to his quarters where he lay down exhausted and perplexed by the events of the past few days.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Good Friday Special: The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

Russian Orthodox Icon of Longinus the Cenurion

This is the first of a series of three Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday stories that I wrote last year and am doing again this year. It is what I image that the commander of the Roman Soldiers in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus must have been going through during that time. The Centurion according to Church tradition was named Longinus who later converted to the Christian faith and by some accounts died as a martyr. Much is legend but still the story of Longinus the Centurion appeals to me as someone who has served in the military for many years and been a company commander in the Army. I will post the other two installments on Saturday and Sunday.  

It was another ignominious day in the life of Longinus the Centurion. Posted to the troubled outpost of Judea he commanded a unit composed of locally recruited troops mostly Samaritans and some Syrians. How he wished that he commanded elite troops of the Italian Cohort or any of the European Legions stationed in nearby Syria.  Normally he and his men were posted to the Roman capital of Judea Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast of Judea, though his troops were not elite the location was not bad so far as amenities, especially for Judea.

However, today’s mission was another distasteful assignment away from Caesarea back to the always troublesome city of Jerusalem.  Since the Jewish Passover was coming and with it thousands of Jewish pilgrims from around the world were in the city and in there was always the potential for trouble. Longinus had heard around the headquarters that tensions in Jerusalem were increasing due to the presence of some itinerant preacher from up in Galilee which according to the agents and spies in the city allegedly had healed the sick, raised the dead and restored sight to the blind. Evidently he had even stirred things up on a previous visit by chasing money changers out of the Temple. Longinus had to admire that, this Jesus was pretty ballsy. Since the worldly and seasoned Longinus didn’t think much of religious zealots, Jewish or otherwise he could only chuckle when thinking of some bumpkin raising hell in the Temple and pissing off the religious elite.

He led his unit as part of the mixed Cohort which provided security for the Imperial Legate, Pontius Pilate. He remembered a previous mission where Pilate had posted the Imperial Standards with the Image of Caesar as God outside the Fortress Antonia very close to the Jewish Temple caused a riot and Pilate had the Standards returned to Caesarea under heavy escort the next day.  This time there was a rebel named Barabbas who had been causing no end of trouble and Pilate had sentenced him to death.  But then the Jewish High Council brought Pilate another case, the case of this itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. It seemed to Longinus and the other Centurions present that the case was a simple religious disagreement that the Romans should not get involved in. However Pilate took the case fearful of the threat to his job if he allowed another “king” to live.  Yet Pilate had found this Jesus innocent but caved to the pressure of the mob, even ignoring the pleas of his wife Claudia to spare the preacher.  Pilate was a typical politician and cut a deal which allowed King Herod, the Sanhedrin and himself to meet the demands of their various constituencies or in the case of Pilate his boss to end this Jesus of Nazareth problem once and for all.

On the day before the Passover one of the preacher’s own men turned him in to the Council for the paltry sum of 30 pieces of silver. That alone proved to Longinus that this Jesus was no threat to anyone. The Temple Police brought Jesus to the Sanhedrin which condemned him to death, but since they were not authorized by the Roman administration to carry out the death sentence they took the case to Pilate. Longinus saw Pilate use every trick that he could to make the decision the responsibility of someone else and if Longinus had been Pilate he would have told those religious types to pound sand and get the hell out of his headquarters, but he was a soldier not a politician with greater aspirations like the legate.

Instead Pilate complicated his life and those of his fellow Roman officers in charge of their local troops. One Centurion had the duty of supervision the torture of this Jesus. The troops were brutal, Samaritans and Syrians they hated the Jews and torturing a Jew for any offense was just too much fun, but for the Roman officers it was unseemly and lacked the honor of a true battle against other soldiers. After the brutal scourging with a barbed whip those soldiers placed a rough hewn “crown” of thorns on the unfortunate man’s head and robed him in purple to mock his claims to be a “king.” Longinus felt that the whole exercise was a cruel joke but the order had been given and by Roman law had to be carried out. After the scouring Pilate tried one last time to get out of killing this man offering to spare him for the life of Barabbas, a man who was a legitimate terrorist threat to the Empire’s interests in Judea. Instead the weak willed Pilate caved and spared the life of the terrorist for a man who couldn’t even control his own people. It was sad what was done in the name of the Emperor.

When final sentence was pronounced Longinus was assigned to the crucifixion detail.  Normally with such inflamed passions he would have assigned much of his unit to the task of the execution and related security measures. However it seemed that the usually surly population had little interest in stopping this execution of one of their own. With that in mind Longinus took just four soldiers with him to conduct the execution, security did not seem to be a problem. After a rather tumultuous parade through Jerusalem where the condemned man was heckled and abused they arrived at a hill just outside of the city called Golgotha, the place of the Skull. Longinus felt that the place was grotesque but it did work for the execution. Any visitor to the city would see the condemned man as well as two common thieves who were being executed at the same time.

His men performed the execution in the prescribed manner and he allowed the men to divide the condemned man’s clothing among them. For three hours the men along with a number of observers those that were obviously mourning the scene including a woman that appeared to be the itinerant preacher’s mother and a young man who he might be one of his followers. They were balanced out by a group of hecklers who mocked the condemned men, especially the preacher. Even one of the common thieves joined in the heckling. Yet in spite of this the preacher responded with grace and love to those who mocked him in his dying hours offering forgiveness to his men and promising eternal life to one of the condemned men who hung on either side of him.  The only real trouble came when some of the Council members noticed that the placard above the preacher said “The King of the Jews.” They immediately send men to Pilate to change the wording but Pilate finally told them to pack sand saying “I have written what I have written.” Longinus kept his silence when he heard this he and the other Centurions arrived back in Caesarea and had a chance to share drinks and a meal in a local pub.

It was an unusual day, the skies grew black as noon approached and the preacher made a number of chilling statements from his place on the cross the most poignant being where he cried out “my God my God why have you forsaken me?” That struck Longinus, this man was not really guilty of anything in Roman Law but was being killed and Longinus was part of the process.  A tear came to his eye when the preacher cried out “it is finished” and died.  Without thinking he called out to his men and to those remaining at the site “truly this man was the Son of God” drawing the ire of those cheering the execution and the bewilderment of those that appeared to be there to support this man. So when a runner came from Pilate came to order the deaths be speeded up to accommodate the religious traditions of the Jews he was relieved. His men broke the legs of the men on either side of the preacher but when they came to the limp body of the preacher they found that he was dead. Just to ensure that this was the case he had a soldier drive a spear into the side of the man. Blood and water flowed from the wound. The man was dead and the job was complete. Another Centurion came with a detail of soldiers to remove the bodies and to ensure the security of the preacher’s tomb, yet another concession to the religious people.

Longinus was glad that the day was done. He cast a glance at a number of women and one young man that remained. They obviously were his friends and the older women might have even been the preacher’s mother. He shook his head marched his troops back into the city and reported that the mission was complete when he reached Fortress Antonia.  He felt hollow inside and hoped beyond hope that time could be altered to allow him to save the many before it ever got to this point.

Arriving at Antonia he joined a number of fellow officers and as they chatted about the day he felt his anger and frustration rise. That preacher didn’t deserve to die and it was too bad that he could not be restored to life. But the Centurion in change of the Tomb Guard detail reported that the body had disappeared from the tomb. Longinus was tired. He hoped that it might be true. He asked the bartender for another drink and wondered just what was going on in this hellhole called Judea and he thought again “truly this man was the Son of God.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: Longinus is the name attributed to the Centurion at the Cross during the crucifixion by early church tradition. Likewise this is true of Claudia the wife of Pilate. This story is simply my versions of what might have happened that fateful Friday when a Centurion named Longinus became an actor in a play that he could not imagine.

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Trouble in River City the Centurion’s Easter: An Empty Tomb, Duplicitous Politicians and a Lingering Question

What springs from earth dissolves to earth again, and heaven-born things fly to their native seat.
Marcus Aurelius 

The pounding on his door awakened Longinus before he expected on this day after the Jewish Passover. He was hoping perhaps beyond hope that the worst was over and that in a few days he could take his soldiers back to the confines of Caesarea and away from the troubled city of Jerusalem. He was tired of this duty and longed for service with a real Legion with real Roman soldiers. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and went to the door of his quarters in Fortress Antonia.  He opened the door to find his Adjutant Marcus with a look of near panic on his face.

He asked the young officer to come into his quarters and take a seat at his table. He took a wineskin and poured the contents into two cups. He asked Marcus what was so urgent and frightening that he had to be at his quarters well before the duty day began. The young man took off his helmet to reveal a crop of blondish brown hair common to the Tyrol in the northern part of Italy and told an almost unbelievable story. He explained that there was trouble at the tomb of the itinerant preacher named Jesus. The two guards from their unit who had relieved the previous watch at the tomb had evidently fallen asleep and there had been a break in.  They claimed that they had been overcome when some kind of angelic being who had descended in front of them and some of the women who had been at the execution site previously.  The story seemed preposterous but Longinus could not believe that they had fallen asleep on duty either as such could be punished by a death sentence.  Adding to the confusion was a report that two of the preacher’s “disciples” had reportedly entered the tomb and claimed that the body was gone as had some of the women that had been there at the crucifixion.  It was unbelievable but yet in light of the strangeness of the man and his execution.  Longinus had the Adjutant bring the two soldiers to him along with the Sergeant of the Guard to explain what had happened.

The two soldiers, one a Samaritan and the other a Greek had good reputations in the unit. Neither had given him cause for concern and the terrified expression on their faces as they explained what happened gave Longinus reason to believe them. Yes it was possible that they were lying but Longinus believed their story. I found that not to believe them and their story that they heard the angel or whatever it was tell the women that the preacher had been raised from the dead. Longinus was not much of a believer in miracles angels or any sort of magic hocus pocus purveyed by seers, magicians or fortune tellers but here he was believing this outlandish story because to disbelieve would mean that there was a serious breakdown of discipline by two outstanding soldiers. He had some soldiers that he wouldn’t believe for an Athenian minute if they told him such a tale but he believed these men and he again thought of his words as the preacher hung dying on the cross on that evil hill.

Longinus went to Pilate’s headquarters when he and the other Centurions were participants in a meeting with the High Priest and his representatives and two of Herod’s people.  The meeting reminded him of a meeting of criminals.  The High Priest and his representatives were livid and Herod’s henchmen voiced their displeasure regarding the lapse of the Roman soldiers that allowed this to happen. Longinus spoke for his men and said that as improbable as it was that he believed their story. That only made the non-Romans angrier; he almost thought that they were engaging Pilate in some histrionic episode in order to force Pilate to do their bidding. They insisted that Longinus’ soldiers had to have fallen asleep and or that they had conspired with the preacher’s followers to remove the body from the tomb. This angered Longinus to the point that he interrupted their ranting to defend his men’s honor. Pilate finally ordered Longinus and the High Priest to be silent.  He asked the non-Romans to step outside while he conferred with Longinus and the other Centurions.

Pilate explained his dilemma. He was afraid that if he sent the High Priest away by supporting his soldiers that there would be a revolt in the streets. He had seen the tumult on the streets by the supporters of the High Priest when he tried to release the “King of the Jews” and felt that this would be worse for security. He advised the Centurions that while he had no reason to doubt them or their men that he had to placate the High Priest and Herod in order to avoid chaos, chaos that could lose him his job if he wasn’t careful. Likewise he did not feel that he had the manpower in the city to handle a full-fledged revolt and that he would have to call for reinforcements from the Legions based in Syria, something that he was loathe to do as this would get back to the Emperor.

Longinus thought back to the day of the execution.  Pilate had agreed to place a guard at the tomb at the urging of the High Council. Longinus had argued against placing any soldiers at the tomb as he felt that since the “King of the Jews” them man that he had called the “son of God” was dead that Rome’s obligation was over. The whole thing reeked of politics, Longinus was overruled by Pilate who explained that Roman soldiers needed to guard the tomb because the High Priest who Longinus detested as much as Pilate insisted that Jesus’ followers would attempt to steal the body and claim that he had been raised from the dead to lead a revolt against the Council and eventually Rome itself.  Added to the Judean witches’ cauldron was Herod, the corpulent and corrupt “King” of Judea.  If Longinus detested Pilate and Caiaphas he hated Herod and all that he stood for, it made him wonder why Roman lives and treasure were spent to solve the problems of this God-forsaken land which he believed would still be trouble two millennia from now if the world lasted that long. Longinus believed that as long as Rome allowed the High Council and Herod to rule the region by proxy that the troubles would never end. He believed that it was only a matter of time before these people, led by the Zealots would revolt as they had against the Seleucids nearly 200 years before. He knew if that happened that Rome would crush the revolt and not leave as much as a house standing.  He hated this occupation and all that it stood for, especially when he saw a good man, an innocent man killed for no good reason other than the politics of it all. It sickened him.

When he was done explaining his decision to Longinus and the other Centurions he called the now quite irate non-Romans back into the proceedings.  He told the High Priest and Herod’s men that he would disciple the soldiers involved and he would assist them in finding just what parties removed the body from the tomb.  In the mean time he would suppress any stories coming from the soldiers about this supposed “resurrection.”  The High Priest and Herod’s men agreed that this would suffice and thanked Pilate for his time and effort. Longinus and the other Centurions quietly seethed as this took place. When the non-Roman parties had left Pilate ensured the officers that no action would be taken against the men and that he would not actively assist the Jews in trying to find the perpetrators of the event. He then let the officer know that they would remain in Jerusalem for another week to allow the multitude of pilgrims to leave the city and then they would return to Caesarea.

Longinus left with the others and met his Adjutant and stepped into the court of the fortress. He was very unhappy with the deal that Pilate made with the High Priest and Herod.  He felt that he had dishonored his soldiers and the unit for the sake of political expediency. He felt ashamed of the Empire for what Pilate had done in cooperating with these people from beginning to end during this affair. He would not forget.

That night he felt compelled to walk to the empty tomb.  In the darkness he looked into the sepulcher aided by a lantern. He saw the grave cloths where they remained; the large stone was rolled away and the seal that had been placed on it was broken.  He looked for any evidence to suggest that his soldiers had fallen asleep but could not find any.  Nor did he see how anyone could have stolen the body and gotten very far without being seen by anyone. Convinced by what he saw he set down in the tomb and thought about this man.  He looked at ground where the body had been placed.  In the dim light he noticed what appeared to be some thorns.  He reached down He would have to find out more about him if he truly was the son of God.

He walked back to the fortress when he went to the Officer’s Mess and had the steward pour him some wine. He drank quite a few before the evening was out and then went to his quarters where he lay down exhausted and perplexed by the events of the past few days.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Holy Saturday….Living in the Uncomfortable Middle

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Holy Saturday reminds us of the fact that we live as Bonhoeffer so eloquently put it “in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning. The Gospel accounts are silent as to what was happening during this interregnum between the crucifixion and the resurrection except that the women prepared the body of Jesus for burial and that the tomb was sealed and a Roman guard detachment detailed to ensure that the tomb remained secure.

One has to use their imagination as to what was occurring in the lives of the characters in this story. We know that on the day of the crucifixion that after Jesus’ death that Joseph of Arimathea provided a tomb where Jesus’ body was prepared and in which he was laid.  We know that the tomb was sealed and that Roman guards were at it as ordered by Pilate.  We know that the disciples with the exception of John had abandoned Jesus and that following the crucifixion that they had scattered and went underground with the exception of Judas who was last seen hanging around.  Most of Jerusalem was observing Passover between Friday evening and Saturday evening.  Life for many went on without a second thought as Jesus was now yesterday’s news.  The disciples wondered if they would be next, a mother mourned, members of the Sanhedrin likely were relaxing for the first time since Jesus entered Jerusalem as potential Messiah the previous Sunday while Roman soldiers far from home wondered just why they were guarding the tomb of a criminal.

We know from the reactions of the disciples the next day that they really believed that Jesus was not only dead but not coming back. There was a finality that they lived a grief that they bore. Their teacher the one that they had given up all to follow was dead executed as a criminal between common criminals and buried in a borrowed tomb.  One of their friends that they had shared the previous three years had betrayed Jesus.  Their world was upended; the one that they assumed to be the Messiah was mortal.  Their faith was crushed.

The life of faith that we live in the interregnum between life and death creation and consummation is often similar to that the disciples experienced.  We experience situations where faith is hard to come by and since we are in the uncomfortable middle nothing seems certain.  Much of this comes when like the disciples we expect something from God or expect God to do something only to find that our expectations were perhaps just a bit different from those of the Deity.  Disappointment with God I think one has called it and if we are honest it is a part of life because none of really know the will of God or even what will transpire tomorrow something that scripture is rather clear about.

We live in the middle every time we walk with Jesus and his followers through Holy Week just as we walk through life and Holy Saturday is in a sense a metaphor for life when we don’t understand it when we are in the middle wondering what transpired before and not knowing the future.  It is a time to again seek out our faith and with our friends who share this life to maintain hope that things will work out, that in fact resurrection will come.

Until tomorrow we leave the disciples in hiding, the city sleeping and the Roman soldiers cold and bored at a tomb which in reality they care less about.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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