Holy Week - A soldier’s prayer
I walked through the city guarding a man
who carried a great wooden beam,
going to his death in a place called Golgotha.
Staggering beneath the crushing weight of his burden
his sweat mingled with the bloody wounds
our nine tailed scourge had carved,
and spread about his naked flesh like a cloak
of imperial Tyrian purple vivid in the sunshine
of that never to be forgotten day.
On his head we rammed a crown,
not of gold studded with precious stones
but a crown of thorns from a dirty hedgerow,
whose vicious barbs stung deep until he wore
a myriad drops of blood like a necklace
of rubies about his sad brow.
A pious woman in the crowd offered him her veil
that he might wipe away the sweat and blood,
but those who last week cried ‘Hosannah’
this day screamed ‘Crucify’.
His eyes glassy with hunger and pain,
he fell to his knees and could not rise again.
My centurion bade a strong Cyrenian take up the beam
and the procession arrived at last in the Field of the Skull.
There we nailed him to his cross and raised him
up where all could see - his mother, his brothers,
his friends, silently weeping at the foot of the cross.
It seemed to me that the sky grew dark,
and the earth shook, but we divided his clothes
amongst us, for he was dead now
and needed earthly goods no more.
That night we spent drinking and dicing
but I could not settle, remembering
the love I had seen in the eyes of the dying man,
his body nearly broken, his last breath nearly drawn,
and the spirit of forgiveness and peace hovering
above him as he hung there, prisoner
of the instrument of his suffering and death.
I am an old soldier now, retired beyond the Tiber
to a small farm where I sit in the sun
beneath my olive trees and muse on the death
of that long ago man of infinite dignity.
Some said he had not died that afternoon but escaped
to a foreign land, others said he was reverently laid
in another man’s tomb, to rise again three days
hence from the kingdom of the dead.
I do not know,
maybe I shall never know.
But I pray to my gods that his god
welcomed him at last into Paradise,
chosen resting place for those honest souls
whose lives become, for us left here,
a pattern of goodness and love.
So may it be.