It was only later that I realised.
When I woke on that morning my thoughts were a scramble, a fistfight of recollections jostling to outdo one another. I couldn’t make sense of it all. You’d not have expected that of me, well, I wouldn’t anyway. Not someone of my standing. Of my experience. I mean I’d been there a thousand times before. Stood on that hill, smelt the atmosphere. Heard the cries and the clatter, the sniping and joking. The sounds. Those came back quickly, as I say, I’m used to that. But it was like there was a missing piece. I took a drink, went for a walk, let the dogfight in my head settle as I watched the blood red dawn spill across the horizon. In my mind’s eye I caught a glimpse of a sign, something being pinned up… no – nailed. Hammered. Just four letters. I knew that was significant. I heard again the creaking of the wood, the straining of the ropes and the men as the thing was lifted up. The shudder as it fell. I was looking up at something. What? What was I looking at? I walked some more. The dawn sun dazzled me for a moment, and is it did so the Roman Governor’s face popped into my mind. He was sweating, dabbing his forehead. There was a trickle of spit on his chin. He was worked up about something. And then I was arranging for a bowl and some water. The soldiers were running with it, spilling it around their feet. Their tunics daubed in the liquid. As if this was an emergency. And then the governor’s hands were in it, plunged, as if he had acid on them, something he needed to wash away really swiftly. Did the water turn red, or had I imagined that? Red water. Red blood. Blood and water. Trickling down… that… that was it. The sign. The four letters. INRI. The governor saying he wouldn’t change it. INRI. The King of the Jews. And in an instant I heard myself again. My voice, cracking a little as I spoke.
‘Surely this… ’ That was it. The missing piece. I stopped dead, hand pressed to my forehead. That’s what I’d blocked out. The horror of it. That moment of realisation. Those curtains being torn open in my mind. Those words. Blurted out so everyone could hear it. ‘Surely this… surely this man was… the son of God.’
So what had I done? What had I overseen, what had I commanded my men to do? Who had I killed? And what would it mean now? For me and him?
Luke 23 v 47