Soldiers find themselves in some very tough situations. Just ask anyone serving in
Afghanistan at present. They have voluntarily signed up to serve their country
and they are trained to carry out orders. They act courageously, protecting one
another and seeking to defend the innocent whilst fighting their enemy. They
deserve our support and our prayers. But their lives are not always like this;
sometimes their duties are mundane and routine.
It is hard for us to grasp that the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus of Nazareth to a cross
and lifted him up to hang and die were doing their job. Given the number of
crucifixions that the Romans carried out the three taking place on that
particular Friday may well even have seemed routine. Yet there was something
about this particular victim which got to the commanding officer, a centurion.
As he stood and heard the insults being shouted at Jesus; as he listened to
Jesus occasional words, like, ‘Father forgive them they do not know what they
are doing’; and as he finally watched him die he came to a startling
conclusion, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ he declared for all around to hear.
On that first Good Friday no one except Jesus’ enemies thought it was good; they
thought the very opposite – and yet in the midst of it a dying thief found
freedom and peace in Jesus promise ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’; and
a soldier recognised Jesus for who, I believe, he truly was. The signs that
somehow out of this tragic death good would come were already there.
That is why even though Jesus’ death looks like tragedy, a waste, a miscarriage of justice,
what happened subsequently shows that this death was God acting for all our
good; which is why we celebrate this Friday as Good.
Broadcast on BBC Radio Nottingham Good Friday 2011