Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Trouble with the Empty Tomb

You didn't hear it from me. Got that? Deal is, we did not fall asleep on our watch. Yeah, that's what you heard, but I'm telling you it didn't, and never would, happen. They made us say that. Who? The Jews; the high priests from the Sanhedrin to be more specific. No, they didn't tell us, but Pilate did after they came cryin' to him. I'll tell you what it was...come closer...yeah, it was a cover-up. See, had we really fallen asleep, we would have all lost our heads. We kinda made a deal to keep it quiet if they were able to say what they did.

What was the big deal? The guy was stone cold dead and there was no arguin' that. I was comin' up the hill when one of our men put a spear in his side to make sure it was final. When I see blood and water come out I know it's a done deal. Still, they, the Jews again, demanded that Pilate put a guard by that tomb. Seems they were afraid that if they stole his body away...Who? His followers. Oh, you mean who's body; that Jesus who they crucified a couple days back. They were afraid that if they stole his body they could claim he did rise from the dead after all, like he said he would. I don't think anyone's ever said they'd rise from the dead, then go ahead and do it too. No, I'm sure of that. Just as sure as I know he was dead when they put him in there. Just as sure as we all rolled that stone in front of the tomb, then placed the Roman seal on it. They'd have to get past the twelve of us, then that scrawny bunch of his followers would have to move that stone too. Trouble is, those followers of his all pretty much scattered once he was in our possession.

So, where's the body now? Good question. All I know is this; we were all around the fire, it was late and there was nothing going on. The dawn was close and the air was quiet till that earthquake, or whatever it was, hit us. We were all knocked flat about the same time as a flash of light. A flash like the brightest lightning. Except there was no thunder, and the night sky was cool and clear. First thing we notice is that stone; it's moved. The tomb is wide open and none of us wanted to, but we had to look inside. Nothin'. Nothin' except those white grave clothes he was wrapped in before. They were still there. They were right there, but not torn up or nothin'. They just looked like whatever was in them, well he just wasn't in 'em anymore. They were layin' there just as nice as my mother's own linens.

Well, none of wanted to stay there after that, and we all figured there was no reason to; what we were supposed to be guardin' was no longer in need of our protection. We headed back to the city, each of us quiet; wondering in our heads what we were going to say when we got there.
The morning sky was starting to lighten. Coming our way I could see three dark figures, each one small, heads covered. I knew by their walk they were women and as the first one came closer a glint of light told me the jars they were carrying were traditional spices; stuff they anoint bodies with for burial. They gave us a wide berth, but it wasn't necessary; we weren't concerned. Each one passed without a word. I was at the back of my regiment. The last one slowed her pace and glanced up, catching my eye. Her own eyes were red and swollen, like she'd been crying a long time. A sadness I could not try to describe, but it touched my heart. Without thinking I stopped and said softly; "He's not there." In the quiet of the dawn I could hear a tiny gasp of breath, and at the same time a happiness spread across her face that almost made me smile in return. She barely touched my hand and then began running to catch the others. As I returned to my march I could hear over my shoulder cries of joy and a laughter that warmed my cold heart.
Even now, as I tell you this I wonder; could I ever know that joy?

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Centurion's Regret

I can't tell you how many of these I've done before. We're damn good at it. Our Roman system of justice has to be one of the best. Fastest for sure. You commit the crime and we'll have you hung out to dry before the sun goes down tomorrow. You'd think it would slow down, but we still have a few of these every week. I've become pretty calloused to the whole thing really; it's my job. But this one gave me a real uneasy feeling.

I came in late; they had me across town in the early hours. By the time I got to the yard this guy was hardly recognizable. I had to look twice to be sure it was a man. They'd been givin' him the works. One of the guys made a crown out of some thorny rose bramble and they jammed it on his already bloody head. When they loaded that rough wooden beam onto his shoulder he collapsed under the weight and it was then I saw his back was raw; not a bit of clean skin was visible. Even though they were laughing it up, I overheard the men saying how little fun it had been. Not like usual; this one didn't put up a fight. They said that when they looked him in the eye, even spittin' in his face, he didn't look mad at them. He looked sorry for them. Like he didn't blame them at all. I tried to find out what it was he'd done, but none of them really knew; something about saying he was king? King of the Jews? I don't know.

Well I didn't have to do much. They got him out of town to the usual spot, and he gathered quite a crowd. People of all kinds; even the Jews; some of the important ones from the synagogue, with all the robes and hats, and women crying. Lots of women. I saw what they meant when they put the nails in his hands and feet. He let 'em do it without a bit of struggle; like he wanted to be there. Or if he didn't want it, he knew it had to be done.

My job was to keep a watch in case anything happened. Like what, he's gonna come down off that cross? Not likely. We make sure of that, but we also make sure they last as long as possible.

Couple other guys were up there too; a couple common criminals, spoutin' off like filthy punks. I could put a spear through 'em myself if I knew I wouldn't hear about it later. I just minded my own business and listened to as little as possible. One of those wretched punks was yellin' somethin' at him; "If you are the Christ, then save yourself and us!" and all of a sudden the other punk changed his tune. " You idiot! Don't you get it? Have you no fear of God? You and I deserve what we're gettin'! This guy did nothin'. He's innocent, ya hear? Leave him alone!"

They both got quiet and that second one said in a real serious tone "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

I stopped walking just a few feet away 'cause that guy they called Christ looked up. I wanted to hear what he said. I had to step closer; his voice was thin but calm; "Assuredly I say to you...." He's lookin' right at that punk! "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

A chill ran down my spine as he finished those words. Something in my heart felt like he'd ripped a piece right out, leaving it exposed to the wind that just kicked up, putting dust in my face.

What was going on here?

Look, I wanna be clear; there were other people around that heard and saw what I saw. It was the middle of the day and had been a pretty nice one up until then; that's when the sky turned as black as if night was falling. Like the sun itself didn't want anything to do with what was happening out there. I couldn't hear a single bird, not even a crow. No dogs barking. No music, nothin'. Just that miserable wind; where did it come from? Nothing felt steady under my feet. Was it my legs, or was the earth trembling. I had lost my focus and wasn't paying attention until I heard him speak again. He lifted his head up like he was talking to the dark clouds above him and cried out like it was the saddest, most painful thing he'd ever done. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." And then, the life went out of him.

The women who'd remained behind were weeping liked they'd lost their best friend. Or their only child. I couldn't help myself. Tears streamed down my dust-covered face and I wiped my arm across my eyes so nobody'd see. I had to turn the other way. I felt ashamed. I was a part of something terrible here. All I wanted to do was run home and hold my wife, hold my children, hide somewhere dark where the light would never find me. Where my shame and sadness would never be known. Nobody could hear me say it under my breath, but I knew it with all my heart; "Certainly this was a righteous man."
(A.McDavid, interpreted from the gospels)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Bikes, Proud Boys, Photographs From the Past

Wow. He had never seen anything quite as shiny or nearly as beautiful. Even the new Model A Fords that occasionally arrived at the old Niles station where Pop was stationmaster could not compare. And more importantly, this was his. And maybe just as important, it was a gift from Mom and Dad for his 5th birthday. It was big! Standing beside it he wondered if he was even tall enough to get on. Pop, in his wisdom and concern for the family budget, had made sure that it would last him a few years. But at the same time, taking a vicarious joy in what he KNEW his only son would love, he spared no expense in getting the more deluxe model; painted fenders; chromed rims, and tw0-toned enamel frame. This thing not only looked great, it was sure to fly. Pop adjusted the seat as far forward as it would go, and turned the handlebar gooseneck backwards in order to make it easy for his son to reach. The rest of the adventure was up to him. As Bobbie stood beside the bike behind the station, Pop snapped the photo. Mom looked on too; enjoying the moment. Both of them smiling, sharing in the pride of their son, their long evening shadows inadvertantly becoming a part of the photograph. Now, some 84 years later I hold the photograph, looking closely into my late father's eyes, and his tender smile, and have to smile too.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Do Dogs Get Nine Lives Too?

(...continued from previous post)
Funny, I just remembered that movie my kids loved so much; "All Dogs Go to Heaven". In Lucky's case, she did come out of the grave.

When I got back to the hole in the ground to find her she was staring up at me. She almost seemed a little embarrassed. I don't think she would have deliberately jumped in there; I have to believe that she was running along as she has many times before (oh, there's an old joke about that happening to a drunk...but another time) and the ground suddenly went out from under her feet. I now recall hearing an unrecognizable thud of some kind when I was walking away and Lucky's sudden drop may have explained it.

Thankfully she didn't appear to be hurt, but I felt that haste was in order anyway. (was I worried someone would come along that I had to explain this too?....some grave-robber or Johnny Depp? ) Next to the open grave was a ragged piece of plywood slightly narrower than the opening itself. (a template?) I put down my flashlight and maneuvered the plywood to line up with the grave and then slid it about half way over it. I let the end drop down slowly till it touched the ground below, shining the light again to make sure Lucky was on the right side, then I hopped down in behind her. Yeah, you KNEW I was going to end up in that hole somehow! I gave her a little push on the behind and she scrambled up the slippery plywood ramp and out again and I promptly did the same. Returning the plywood to it's original place we were on our way, pretty sure that if there were any spirits lingering last night, they had a good laugh.
Lucky has not made any requests to go out on a walk tonight.

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Between the Living and the Dead" or..A funny Thing Happened in the Graveyard Last Night

Okay, I have every intention of completing the thoughts I shared in the previous blog, but felt this was interesting; first, let me be clear; I have a great respect for those of mankind who've passed on, and would never intentionally mess with anything in a cemetary. I don't have any fear of graveyards mind you, and really find them quite peaceful at night.

Tonight around midnight my dog Lucky and I were on our usual walk in the dark. We live off a country road where that late at night cars are few, if any, and Lucky and I enjoy the quiet, the darkness, and the freedom to use the whole road. Midway through our walk we pass a pretty church cemetary and most often don't go in. When we do I see many old family names from our country community and we're careful to respectfully walk between the sites. Tonight as we passed I noticed a change and decided to see what it was; something unfamiliar in the usual "stoney" landscape. As we got closer I saw that there was a large pile of dirt and next to it a perfectly straight, well-cut, empty tomb. I let Lucky off her leash to look around, and crouched down to peer in, turning on my flashlight to take it in....thinking for a moment about life, death, and everything in between.

I don't know about you, maybe it's a guy thing; when we find a big hole in the ground, we naturally want to jump in. Yeah, you're thinking I did, right? No, I thought, this place is for someone else. I will let it remain that way. As I walked away I saw the gravestones of two young men I knew; neighbors whose lives on the earth were far too short. I paused to remember their faces and walked on.

At the place where the grass ended and the road home began I stopped again to wait for Lucky to catch up. She usually plods along, sniffing here and there, and in time I always see her dark shape come out of the shadows. If she is very pokey, as tonight, I may need a call or two, or a couple whistles. A few more tonight and no sign of her as I grew a little impatient. It was about 40 degrees out. I waited a minute longer and started retracing my steps back to the empty grave and sure enough, as I got closer I could hear a soft, muted whimper. Somehow, whether by design, or error, there was Lucky staring up at me nervously from the now not-so-empty hole with no way out.

Dang it! This dog is about 11 years old and weighs around 85 pounds. She is not going to jump out of that grave. The only way she is coming out is if I go in. (to be continued)