Lucius opened his eyes. How had he fallen asleep? The penalty for sleeping on duty was instant death. His breath left him as memory returned. It wasn’t sleep that claimed him. The earthquake, that…being–for there was no other way to describe it–whose appearance was brilliant as lightning, its clothing white as snow. It singlehandedly rolled the stone up the trough and away from the tomb’s entrance.
He jerked upright. His fellow soldiers around him were in varying stages of waking. Every one of them had trembled with fear at the sight, quaking harder than the earth’s tremors that accompanied the appearance. Even Tertius’ bravado failed him—his knees buckled and he hit the ground before anyone else. Seconds later, he himself had fallen in a dead faint.
He rose to his feet and moved to survey the tomb they were supposed to be guarding. The stone leaned against a rocky outcrop to the right of the tomb. He unsheathed his sword, his foot nudging Tertius as he approached the opening and cautiously peeked inside. No one was there, neither living nor dead. Had the rabbi‘s disciples truly stolen his body? He’d agreed with Tertius’ assessment from the day before—they were nothing more than a bunch of whipped curs with their tails between their legs.
Tertius stumbled toward him, rubbing his eyes as if he’d slept all night. “Who—or what was that we saw? Surely it was not of this earth.” He followed Lucius’ motion and peered into the tomb. “He’s gone! His followers are braver than they seem.”
Lucius shook his head. “Look again. The grave clothes, they’re all there. Why would anyone spend time unwrapping the linens before stealing a dead body? And look how neat it all is. Whoever did this was in no hurry.”
The centurion pushed his way into the tomb then hurried back out. “We must report this immediately. It may go better for us if we bring the news than if they hear it from someone else.” Lucius put his sword away and fell into step as the guard company made their way into the city to meet with the chief priests of the Jews.
Hours later, the officials still didn’t believe their account. The priests had listened to their report, called a meeting of elders and questioned each of the guards individually, likely hoping to find a discrepancy that would disprove their story. But they all knew what they’d seen, the fearsomeness of the event making them reluctant to speak of it. He recognized it in their eyes. Part of him hoped never to experience such a thing again while another part yearned for the odd hope it stirred in him. Had the rabbi conquered death, as was being spoken of among his followers? Impossible!
The centurion exited the meeting, a money bag hanging from his side. Heavy, by the looks of it. “These are your orders. Do not speak of this to anyone. If asked, you are to say you fell asleep and the rabbi’s followers stole his body while you were sleeping.”
Lucius and the others protested. “We’ll be killed for sleeping on duty.”
The centurion lifted his hands for silence. “They have promised to deal with our leaders if word gets back to them. Until then,” he hefted the money bag, “this should encourage your silence.”
Tertius’s eyes grew wide at the generous amount of silver placed in his hands. Lucius read the smile creasing his face and frowned. “Be careful, my friend. Wine has a way of loosening one’s tongue.”
Tertius laughed. “Who would believe it anyway? That eight Roman guards all fell asleep at once? That not a single one awoke at the noise of someone rolling away the stone and stealing a dead body? And if I say what really happened, they will surely believe the wine is playing tricks on my mind.” He held up a coin and looked at Lucius. “Join me tonight? Silver’s shine attracts some fine ladies.”
Lucius shook his head. “Are you not moved by what we saw? Something supernatural happened out there, not just this morning but over the past few days. Have you forgotten the three hours of unnatural darkness during the crucifixions, earthquakes, people who were dead being seen alive and walking around the city?” He looked for some sign of acknowledgment in his friend’s eyes. “Something happened when that rabbi died on the cross, something worth much more than a night of carousing, something life-changing.”
Tertius laughed. “Why should I want to change my life?” He juggled the coins in his hand so they made clinking sounds.
Lucius searched his eyes for a shred of comprehension. Finding none, he turned and strode away. He’d search for an answer to this mystery, and not stop until he found it. This rabbi called Yeshua held the key. He would find him. Whether alive or dead, Lucius determined to find a Way to discover the Truth that would lead to Life.