They stood outside the tomb, hugging themselves tightly against the biting cold. Their weapons hanging idly by their sides, their backs against the tomb’s wall.
The darkness was thick. They could barely see the shapes of each other. One or two cursed in low tones.
Jemiah was the youngest of the soldiers, the most zealous and outspoken. His companions held him in disdain. He was too keen to impress, he was always doing more than the job called for, working longer hours, volunteering for the harder tasks. What does the little beardless fool want to prove, they asked among themselves.
Jemiah pretended he didn’t hear the whispers. He pretended he didn’t see the furious glowers as the leader of their band heaped praises on him after leading the successful capture of that delusional crackpot Rabbi called Jesus.
Now, he stood ramrod straight and alert, his spear gripped firmly in his hands, his eyes straining to peek through the veil of darkness. They had told him to be on the lookout for a band of deluded followers of the dead rabbi who might try to steal the body and claim he rose from the dead.
” Bring them alive,” was the order.
Jemiah and his cohorts had been waiting for a few hours now. But the only sounds they had heard so far was the wind whispering into the ears of the grass, the murmur of night ghosts and spiritwalkers that his widow mother had told him about when he was a little child.
The only thing they saw was the unreadable face of darkness. The face of blank nothingness. Voids.
They hadn’t brought lamps. They hadn’t wanted to scare the would be grave robbers away. Jemiah could hear the heavy snoring of some of the soldiers. He tsked in disdain. The era when Roman soldiers were rugged, no-nonsense and very brutal custodians of the laws of the lands were numbered.
What’s that? His eyes flew wide. His grip on his spear tightened and he turned sharply.
He saw nothing but he knew what he had heard. No, he didn’t know what he heard. He only knew he heard something. He just had no idea what it was and where it had came from.
” Wake up, dogs.” he yelled.
Jemiah was also despised because of his utter lack of regard for rank or age. He was half-Jewish. Roman only on his father’s side. He had been involved in training ground shouting and slanging matches with his superiors several times. Tall and built like an ox. He had the demeanour of a possessed bull when angry and his voice split eardrums when he yelled. Men thought five times before trifling with him.
The other men jerked awake. Someone, the leader of the expedition cursed. Jemiah responded in a mixture of Hebrew and Greek which he learned at school as a boy.
The sound came before Jemiah finished venting. The others must have heard it for the air was suddenly stirred with the sounds of boots stamping hard on the earth as the men came awake, spears making a swish sound as they were pulled from the earth.
” What is that?” someone asked.
As if to reply him, the air was suddenly shattered with a roar that knocked five men senseless on the ground, the others dropped their spears and stuck fingers into their ears. The ground shook beneath them and they removed their hands, flailing to keep their balance.
Jemiah cursed again as he fell, groping for his spear, feeling the earth beneath him vibrate like a demoniac under the possession of the whole hosts of hell.
The tremor stopped as suddenly as it had began. Jemiah got up quickly, still groping for his weapon. He collided with someone who was doing exactly the same thing, the man was mumbling something about the devil in a voice so filled with fear it infected Jemiah. His heart began to beat drumbeats of dread.
His hand came upon the cold metal. But feeling it did not give him even a misguided sense of courage. It was as if whatever it was that had just happened had ransacked his mind and heart and shook the last dregs of courage out of him. All he felt as he stood in the darkness was a deep sense of cluelessness and indecision. His feet trembled, itching to flee into the darkness. But Jemiah had never ran from anything. Not even when he got lost in a forest expedition one day and stumbled on a pride of lions having a nap under the shade of tall grasses. He had gripped his spear tightly and waited for them to attack. Lucky for him, the lions had just finished a heavy lunch and showed no interest in the human trembling before them.
Jemiah looked round, towards the mouth of the tomb. And his heart almost stopped.
He saw a man in shimmering white clothing. The man was tall, taller than Rufus who was six foot eight. And he had shoulders so broad they blocked the entrance into the tomb. Jemiah wasn’t surprised to see the stone rolled away from the tomb. The man standing before him had a body that suggested he benchpressed mountains for fun.
” Who are you?” Jemiah asked, hating how his voice trembled.
” My name is Gabriel.”
For a man so huge, he had a very soft voice. Each word seemed to have some kind of ethereal beauty wrapped around them. It was almost like a song.
” You came to steal the body of Jesus.” Jemiah accused, lifting his voice a couple of notches higher, trying to summon courage.
The man did not answer him. Jemiah gripped his spear and steadied himself, not knowing what he was doing but hating the feeling of helplessness that had wrapped itself round him like a widow’s black shawl.
He launched himself at the man.
Two wings protruded suddenly from behind the man. They shot out like lightning, one sweeping in a horizontal arc to knock the spear from his hand, the other slamming hard into his left side, sending him spinning into the air and crashing heavily on the ground, stunned.
The sound of frenzied footsteps told him his colleagues who had survived the tremor were running away.
” Dogs,” he mouthed, gripping his sides in pain.
The man, no, the angel moved from the tomb and seemed to float four feet in the air. Jemiah saw a strange glow emanating from the tomb.
Another angel came out and joined the first one. They seemed to converse briefly then they stared at him. Their eyes shone, branding fear into his soul.
From nowhere a voice that sounded like the roar of water from a burst dam exploded from above them.
” LET THERE BE LIGHT!”
Before Jemiah’s eyes, the darkness gave way. Lightning flashed across the sky in forked streaks. Midnight suddenly became noon. A sunless noon. He saw clearly the outline of his colleagues sprawled on the ground. Dead? Unconscious? He saw the angels as they hovered over the tomb, their wings spread apart. He saw the hill suddenly take on a strange shimmering radiance, he saw the flowering shrubs seem to grow a bit taller, brighter, the sky became bluer, the grass greener. The world more alive than he had ever known it.
He saw the dead man as he walked out of the tomb.
He knew it was Jesus because he came out staring at his hands. Pierced hands. Crushed hands.
A halo surrounded him, blazing brighter than any light he had ever seen. For some reason, Jemiah’s heart became calm, his fear vanished, his hatred for this man he had whipped and spat at a few days ago dissolved.
Jesus turned his head and stared at Jemiah. Jemiah saw two balls of bright flame shining in his eyes. He felt faint, a sudden wave of nausea enveloped him. At the same time, he felt happiness showering on him. Like water.
Just before he passed out into a darkness so long and deep, Jemiah had the time to reflect on the light he saw in the eyes of Jesus. He thought that the light was good.