There are a number of minor characters who appear in the Passion narratives in all four gospels. They seldom get much attention. So this Lent I want to try to see these invisible people of the Passion and imagine events through their eyes.

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

What could we say? The whole thing is still beyond believing. I could not begin to understand what took place in the depths of the darkest hours of that early Sunday morning.

There is no doubt we had dozed; there was not much excitement to keep us awake. The duty was dull; there was nothing to keep us alert and on our toes. Even if someone came to try to take his body, they could not roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb. And, anyway, why would they bother? What would anyone want with a dead preacher’s body?

Posting a guard at the tomb of an insignificant preacher made no sense. We could not understand the fear that motivated of our leaders to feel the need to guard his burial place. But we had a job to do and we did it, even if we went to sleep on duty.

It was while we slept that the trouble began. We were awakened by the rumbling of the earth. I have heard the earth angry before. Everything shook. Then it stopped. There was utter silence and complete stillness. We had jumped up as soon as the shaking started. We had looked out into the garden as if expecting a great giant to come striding out of the bush. But, of course nothing came.

Instead, the world held its breath. Not a breeze rustled the leaves; not a sound interrupted the deep silence of the early morning. Even the birds were not yet awakened.

When we turned towards the tomb, to our utter astonishment, we saw that the stone had rolled back, leaving the entrance exposed. We could not speak. It was impossible to imagine what this meant. We knew no one had been there to move the stone. Even if someone had come, there was not time to roll away such a large stone and then flee without any of us noticing. What earthly power could possibly have done this deed?

We waited, huddled together like frightened children. In the cold early morning air, a warm breeze seemed to stir from within the tomb. Then we noticed the glow. It was faint at first. But it grew stronger by the minute, until eventually we could no longer even look inside the tomb. It seemed to pulsate with energy. We had to pull back from the entrance and shield our eyes.

I really don’t know what happened next. The light seemed to burst forth from the tomb and pass by us. It felt like a warm gentle presence moving through the garden, brushing past us, leaving a gentle aroma in its path. If I had not known better, I would have said it was the presence of a person, a loving and good person. But, then it was gone. There was only darkness.

We rushed into the tomb. The body we had been ordered to guard was gone. We kept staring at the spot where the body should have been as if staring long enough and hard enough would make it materialize again in its place. But, no matter how hard we looked, there was no mistaking the fact that this tomb was empty.

We were terrified. We had been sent to protect the body and now we had no body to protect. What could we possibly say? How could we explain this mystery which had caught us up in its power?

When we had finally settled down enough to discuss our dilemma we agreed that no story we made up could ever seem believable. We concluded our only hope was simply to tell the truth.

To our astonishment, the chief priests did not punish us. They offered us money, good money, to keep quiet. It seemed they were more worried that our story might be believed than they were about our failure to carry out their orders.

So, we kept quiet. Well, at least, mostly we kept quiet. Late one night, when I couldn’t sleep, I told my wife what I had experienced. Then a few days later, I was sitting long after dinner with my father. We had drunk a bit of wine, and I told him my story. And there were one or two other conversations in which I might have let drop a few of the details of that strange early morning when we experienced that mysterious power of light.

And, the thing is, the more I spoke about it, the stronger it grew. It seemed as if that presence got more real as the days went by.

Then I started meeting people who seemed to carry that same presence. They spoke about the man named Jesus who had been killed on a cross. They said after he was buried he had been raised to new life. They said he was the power of God’s love that had been born into the world and that violence and death could not defeat.

I kept remembering that early morning, the light and the warm glow, that sense of a presence passing us by and then leaving the garden. My heart knew the stories were true. But something held me back.

What demands would such a presence make upon me if I truly acknowledged his presence? How would my life have to change if that gentle presence of love was in fact real? What might it mean for me to believe that love could truly conquer death and that there is a power in the world that is stronger than all the destructive forces of anger, hatred, and violence?

The questions kept rolling around inside my head. Until, one day, I began to notice that the questions had gone quiet. It’s not that I had found any answers. But my awareness of that presence had grown so strong that the questions simply no longer seemed to matter.

I began to seek out the company of those who had encountered Jesus after his death. I began to listen to their stories and their accounts of his teaching. Soon every part of me began to know these things were true. Soon that glow of love and truth began to burn in my heart and guide my days. I began to wonder why I had ever doubted.