In this resurrection morning excerpt from “The Soldier Who Killed a King”, the centurion, Marcus Longinus is awakened by an earthquake and shortly thereafter a pounding commotion at his gate.
The gateposts must have shifted in the quake, and now the bar was jammed. Finally I jarred it free with a painful upward thrust with my open palms. A dozen men surged in. The guards from the tomb! They were breathless. Sweat dripped from them. Some collapsed on the ground. Others were doubled over and gasping for air.
They must have run the whole way from the tomb. But it was more than exhaustion that I saw written on their faces. I saw fear.
“What’s happened?” I called out to no one in particular.
Philip caught his breath, “There was a light. It came down.” He shook his head violently, then grabbed some more air, but he could not go on.
I moved to another man who was stooped over, hands on his knees. I motioned for him to speak with quick desperate jerks of my hands. But he shook his head.
I spotted Claudius. I grabbed him by the front collar of his cuirass and forced him upright. “What happened?” I demanded as I yelled in his face. “What happened?” My words were forced out through clenched teeth.
“The light . . . the light became a man,” he swallowed. “When it touched the ground . . . the earth shook. It dropped out from under us.”
His head slumped down again.
I shook him. “What then?” I demanded again.
From behind me Philip resumed the account, “We all fell down. Fell flat.”
I stepped toward him again.
He caught another gulp of air. “It was so bright – like lightning. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t see. We couldn’t look.” He held up his hand as though he was shielding his eyes. “We lay there shaking.”
And he still was shaking. I looked about. Others were nodding their heads.
“What else? Was there more?”
A third man came to his aid. “When I opened my eyes, the angel was on the stone. He was sitting on the stone.”
“The tomb was open,” Philip continued, but then he fell to the ground. “A man walked out of it. The dead man walked out!” he wailed out these last words, as though he had seen a spirit – a ghost.
“You all saw this?”
To a man they nodded their ascent.
“We all saw it,” Claudius confirmed.
I brought my hand to my forehead, and then expelled a huge breath of air. This was beyond understanding. It was clearly from beyond the realm of the normal. How do you handle heaven’s messenger? How do you deal with the supernatural?
I looked over them again. “Some of you are missing? Where are the other men?”
“I don’t know,” Claudius admitted. “Some just ran off. I guess they were too scared.” He shook his head as though he was waking from some dreaded nightmare.
I did a head count, confirmed that there were twelve here, then told them to sit still. With a few quick questions I determined who was missing.
But the men before me were in shock. They were as traumatized as any troops routed in battle. You could see it on their faces. This was no fabrication. Whatever they had witnessed had nearly scared the life right out of them.
I had no idea what to do. My family had watched all this – this double quake. They would have questions for me later. I turned to them now. Then I turned back to my men. I never felt more caught between two worlds.
Where does this all go from here? What do I do next?
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