It was all in a day’s work; three more criminals to receive their just deserts.
There would doubtless be the usual anger, curses, agonised faces, screams of torment and, of course, the jeering crowd. And the day would end, as it always did, with the lifeless bodies taken down from their crosses, to be buried out of sight and out of mind for ever.
But today was quite unlike any other day, before or since. The hardened centurion had not known anything like it in all his life. It was different because of the man who hung on the middle cross.
He had no harsh words for those who stood by taunting and mocking him; only a prayer: ‘Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing’.
He refused to take the drugged wine that would have relieved some of the pain. It was as if he wanted to remain fully alert to the end.
His presence produced a remarkable change in one of the other dying men. He stopped his insults and seemed almost to pray to him, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. And the man on the middle cross replied, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’.
From midday until 3 o’clock, the scene was enveloped in a thick, eerie darkness, and then, as if to explain what was happening, he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
In the moments before he died, he declared in a loud voice: ‘It is finished!’ But he didn’t seem to be conceding defeat, as if to say his life was over. He seemed to be sounding a note of triumph, as if he thought his death was achieving something.
His final words were uttered not with a murmur or a groan, but with a loud voice, addressed not to man but to God: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’.
The centurion thought he had seen it all before, but he had never seen anything like this before. As he weighed up everything he had seen and heard, there was no doubt in his mind — ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’
The events that took place three days later confirmed it. The tomb was empty. The man was alive, never to die again.