Matthew 27:50-54

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Matthew 27:50-54

My hand was on my father’s head when he died. His wife. My sisters. We all stood around him on his hospital bed as he breathed his last. It is a surreal experience. His was a peaceful death. The kind of death many people hope for – they have tried everything. You aren’t going to get any better in this life. You want those you love around you. You want, as we pray at funerals, “Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness.”

The death of Jesus wasn’t peaceful.

Matthew tells the story in dramatic, earth-shattering and tomb-opening fashion. His wasn’t a peaceful death. It was violent and chaotic. Just as the heavens were torn open at the baptism of Jesus, now the temple curtain is torn open. Matthew says that even the dead are raised and start walking around town like some kind of zombie apocalypse. This isn’t a peaceful death.

Those who schemed and plotted his death got their wish. Pilate’s will was done. The soldier were coldly efficient in their whipping and nailing and watch keeping. The crowds left his limp body. Nothing more there to see. Let’s move on now to the next thing that captures our fancy. The next lynching…because we all know there’s going to be another one somewhere. Blood lust is never satisfied.

Except for one soldier (and Matthew adds, knowing it takes more than one witness to be “official”, “those who were with him.) One soldier suddenly realizes what they have done. One soldier’s eyes of faith are finally opened. “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

The death of Jesus leads one person to faith. The first confession of faith after the death of Jesus comes from a Roman soldier. I don’t care who you are – no one could have seen that one coming.

As I have often heard it said, if even one person were to come to faith, it would all be worth it. I believe that. I believe Jesus would say the same thing. Because that is how Jesus works. One person at time.

And the first was a Roman soldier. Perhaps even with the blood of Jesus on his hands.

This death wasn’t peaceful – it was the fulcrum of time.

And know this as well – this death was for you.

Let us pray: Jesus, rouse us from our complacency. Fill us with the power of your Spirit that our eyes might be opened anew to the depth of your love and the power of your presence. You, dying a horrible death, swallowed up death. You, rejected, refused to reject. Hated, you refused to hate. May our hearts and lives, like that soldier, come to new-found faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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