Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holy Week - Easter

Today I will be sharing with you one of my favorite parts of the Easter Story. Of course, I very much love and appreciate all the significance of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross and I especially love that they found the tomb empty on that morning. My writing today, however, does not come from the last chapter of Hamilton's book  24 Hours that Changed the World Instead today's reflection on the Risen Christ comes from what I think is one of the coolest scripture references about how great and mighty God is.

Matthew 28:2-4 says "for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. 4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men."

So one of the ways in which the chief priests argued for Christ to be Crucified was that they said he was trying to lead a rebellion against Caesar, against Rome. Of course, Pilate himself did not quite see their perspective but to please the crowd still had Jesus crucified. The priests also convinced Pilate to have the centurions guard the tomb to keep anyone from stealing the body. Pilate provided a "Guard" of them to watch over the tomb.

Now it has been suggested to me by a wonderful historian that there would have been at least 6 Centurions in a "guard" and as many as 300 depending on the perceived threat of the situation. Given Pilate's hesitations with crucifying Christ and that the Jews posed a very little physical threat to the Romans it was likely on the lower end of this number. Let me point out that of all the fighting men in all the history of the world, Roman Centurions were the toughest fiercest meanest killing machines that existed. The average Centurion had a kill ratio of 13:1 so if a Centurion were by himself he could face 12 armed fighters without blinking. So when you do the math you have at least 6 men with a kill ratio of 13:1 meaning together they could face and defeat easily 60 fighting men. However there is something else that you might want to know about the Roman Centurions, they were also the most skilled and disciplined strategic fighters and the reason for the minimum number of men in the "guard" was so they if needed could perform a defensive maneuver called the "Tortoise."  In this defensive position if these Centurions were to come under attack they would come together and use their shields to form a protective shell around them opening holes between shields just enough to see the enemy and kill them with a sword sticking out of the shell. Within this "Tortoise" maneuver they would have been able to survive against a much larger fighting force. It was likely that these men wouldn't even call for backup if faced by hundreds of lightly armed Jews that might come to Jesus tomb. They also had a strict no Surrender policy in which they were always committed to fighting to the death.(if I have mistaken any of this information I hope you would correct me in the comments below)

Now that we have that context, those passing verses have a different significance. To think that this "guard" of Centurions saw the Angel of the Lord and were so scared that they fell as if they were dead!!? What must they have seen? What is it about God that could scare them so much? Every biblical example of the Angel of the Lord appearing the Angel has to say "do not be afraid." It is hard for me to picture fearing God in this way. I understand God to be Love and I trust in his mercy and grace as the Bible instructs. But to think of seeing something so powerful to strike fear into the strongest men our minds could imagine, to think of that only makes me curious. I wonder what it would have been like to be there that morning. I wonder what the Angel of Lord might have looked like. I wonder what it would have felt like on a nice spring morning filled with sorrow, in a time of mourning the death of not only a friend but the Messiah to see the stone rolled back, to see the tomb empty. What would it have been like? Have you experienced the Risen Christ?

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