Summary: A short play suitable for a youth group or drama group to perform in Church.The play is set as a modern day hearing into the events that allowed the ‘Jesus Cultists’ to claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. The Commander of the Guard is called to give testimony and be cross-examined - insofar as a Roman soldier could be cross examined in a Jewish court.
Keywords: Easter, Empty Tomb, Resurrection, Jesus, Roman Guards, Asleep, Stone rolled away, Conspiracy, Stolen body,
Actors: 1M 3 M/F
Props: include, four desks, chairs, a modern day Army Sergeants uniform, a Judges wig and gown.
Duration: 7-10 mins
Scripture Reference: Matthew 27:63 and 28:11 – 15
COURTROOM SCENE. Four desks are on stage. A JUDGE, Old, wigged, a touch senile, sits at the desk at Stage Centre Left facing out to the audience. PUBLIUS PETRONIS wears a modern army Sergeant’s uniform. He is arrogant and sits at the desk at Stage Centre Right facing out to the audience. The DEFENCE LAWYER wearing a suit and tie is seated at the desk at Stage Right with the desk at right angles to the audience). The PROSECUTION LAWYER, also in a suit and tie., is seated at the desk at Stage Left with the desk at right angles to the audience. At the opening of the scene only Judge, Defense and Prosecutor Lawyers are on stage.)
DEFENCE: (Stands) Your Honor, I would like to call as first witness, Sergeant Publius Petronis, of the Imperial Army of Rome.
PUBLIUS: (Enters Stage Right, holding himself like Royalty. He sits at his desk).
DEFENCE: (Rises and stands at his own desk to talk). Sergeant Publius, on behalf of this court and the Nation of Israel I would like to thank you for appearing...
PROSECUTION: (Interrupts). Objection Your Honour, the witness has not been sworn in.
DEFENCE: (Huffy). Your Honour! Sergeant Publius is a member of the Imperial Roman Army, under Caesar Himself. His integrity and honor is beyond question, and to ask him to swear to his honesty would be a direct slap in the face to our Roman Benefactors - even to Caesar himself.
JUDGE: (Impatient), Oh do get on with it. Objection over-ruled
DEFENCE: Thank you Your Honour. (To Publius). I would like to thank you for voluntarily appearing at this hearing, a hearing that has been established to once and for all quash the claims of a lunatic fringe, that a man called Jesus, was raised from the dead three days after being crucified. As a Military man, I think that you would agree that it is necessary for us to cover all bases in dealing with these cultists who claim legitimacy to their ridiculous claim. (Picks up a sheaf of papers). Even though we have your most excellent report on the incident some elements (Glares at Prosecution) are grabbing at straws and doing their best to ...
PROSECUTION: (Interrupts). Your Honour; is the learned counsel here to make a political statement or to examine a witness?
JUDGE: (To Defence). Yes, yes, do get on with it.
DEFENCE: (Miffed. Shuffles Papers). Yes your honour. According to your report you were the guard commander assigned to the Jewish leaders to watch over the body of the criminal, Jesus of Nazareth. Is that correct?
PUBLIUS: (gives a deep nod of “Yes”).
DEFENCE: During the night the guard fell asleep and the Jewish rebels stole the body so that they could claim that he was resurrected. Is that correct?
PUBLIUS: (gives another deep nod “Yes”).
DEFENCE: (To judge) So there we have it your Honour. On the word of an Officer of the Imperial Roman army we have absolute proof that his followers, to defraud the people of Israel, stole the body, of this pretender Jesus. No further questions thank you. (Defence sits down).
PROSECUTION: (There is a pause in the action. Finally everyone looks at Prosecution, who is deep in thought. He shakes his head as if to clear it then stands. During his examination he paces the floor in front of Publius). I too would like to thank you Sergeant, for appearing before this hearing, that has been set up to deal with a minor squabble amongst us Jewish people. This Jesus, who it is claimed, predicted that he would come back to life, and that this would be proof that He is the son of God, can be of no consequence to the imperial might of Rome. I simply need to ask you a few questions to establish the background of what you say so that the court can be fully assured of the events. (Consults notes held in his hand).Now, the guard that you commanded was in fact ordered there by the Jewish authorities. Is that correct?
PUBLIUS: (Indignant). No it is not! No imperial Roman soldier take orders from any rabble in an occupied country. My supreme leader, in this country, Pontius Pilate, was approached by the Jewish leaders, begging for help, as they feared some impotent followers of a dead cult may try to steal the body of an executed criminal.
PROSECUTION: Very good. So your guard…by the way, how many of you were there? Two? Three?
PUBLIUS: Our Guard was a standard Contubernium consisting of eight men. This is the smallest unit of the Roman Imperial Army and it was considered enough to stop the theft of the body.
PROSECUTION: (Mock surprise). Eight men? Eight trained soldiers of the Roman Imperial Guard to stop the theft of a battered and bloody pulp of a body? The theft by… (recollects), ‘Impotent followers of a dead cult’? This guard you were given for the job Sergeant? It was such a minor job! Perhaps the men were all recruits, or perhaps the old and feeble soldiers fit for no other duty?
PUBLIUS: No soldier of Rome on foreign duty is a new recruit - or old and feeble. I have been with the guard for eight years and six of those years were spent training in Rome. I warn you to choose your words carefully counselor - you are bordering on insolence.
PROSECUTION: (Raises hands briefly in mock surrender). No offence intended Sergeant - I am merely establishing the background. You and seven of Rome’s finest were assigned to the Jewish Authorities to guard the body of this Jesus of Nazareth from theft. Tell me Sergeant, what did you do when you first arrived at the tomb?
PUBLIUS: First off we checked that the body was in the tomb and then supervised the closing of the tomb.
PROSECUTION: How was it closed?
PUBLIUS: A large stone was rolled across the entrance in accord with your Jewish customs.
PROSECUTION: How large was the stone?
PUBLIUS: It was almost as high and wide as a man. It took four men to roll it into place and it was secured when it dropped into a small ditch in front of the tomb entrance.
PROSECUTION: Must have made quite a noise I suppose, a stone that size grating along bedrock?
PUBLIUS: (Shrugs his shoulders) Who cares about the noise.
PROSECUTION: And then what did you do Sergeant?
PUBLIUS. (Arrogantly). I personally sealed the tomb to make sure that it could never be opened again.
PROSECUTION: You sealed the tomb? Did you use some of your Roman concrete, or perhaps some other wonder of technology that us simple Jews know nothing about?
PUBLIUS: (Smug). I used something far better than concrete counselor. I used the Imperial Seal of Rome. I placed wax on the stone and wax on the wall behind it. I joined the two balls of wax with a cord and then stamped the image of Caesar into the wax. No man dare break that seal except on penalty of a long and painful death. This seal is better than any physical seal, it cannot be broken.
PROSECUTION: And yet, by your testimony these ‘impotent followers’ seem to have done just that.
DEFENCE: (Leaps to his feet). Your honour - I object. (There is short pause. All look at Defence while he struggles to find a reason for his objection).
JUDGE: Yes counselor? Go ahead with your objection.
DEFENCE: Counsel is, is, showing disrespect to Caesar your honour.
JUDGE: (Stares at Defence for a moment while he thinks. Then shakes his head to clear it. To Prosecution). Be a good fellow and try not to show disrespect to Caesar will you? Now get on with it.
PROSECUTION: Yes your honour. Now Sergeant. During your stay at the tomb, were you given food or drink by any of the local people?
PUBLIUS: (Indignant) Certainly not. Standard procedure in an occupied country is to not accept food or drink from any source but our own.
PROSECUTION: Why is that?
PUBLIUS- The food may be poisoned or drugged by a hostile population.
PROSECUTION: Were you all drunk?
DEFENCE: (Leaps to feet again). Your Honour....
JUDGE: Yes, yes, yes. Counsel will moderate his line of questioning.
PUBLIUS: I would like to answer this charge. No soldier of Imperial Rome would drink alcohol while on duty. To do so, would be to show disrespect to his uniform and would incur a punishment of summary execution.
PROSECUTION: You have a saying in your Army that goes ‘Keep your toga on!’, or sometimes ‘Keep your shirt on’ - what does this mean?
PUBLIUS: (Uptight). Nothing, I have not heard it, it means nothing.
PROSECUTION: (Consults notes). I am told that the term relates to a nasty habit that watch commanders have when they find a sleeping guard. Apparently they set fire to the soldier’s toga, and when he wakes he is run through with a sword. Is it true that the penalty for sleeping on guard is summary execution?
PROSECUTION: And yet all eight of you live yet. Why is that?
PUBLIUS. (Quite uncomfortable). We reported immediately to the Jewish leaders when we saw that the body had been stolen, and they made it right with our commander.
PROSECUTION: Out of gratitude for a job well done perhaps? So! Sergeant! Let’s sum up. You and seven other highly trained soldiers of the Roman Imperial army were on loan to the Jewish leaders to guard a dead body from being stolen by a few rag-tag followers of this Jesus of Nazareth. You placed an unbreakable seal on the tomb and then all eight of you fell asleep. You were not drugged, nor were you drunk. You must have all been very tired when you consider that the punishment for this was death. Sometime during the night, probably six or more followers of Jesus managed to roll this massive stone back from the tomb entrance, perhaps making enough noise to wake the very dead. They then proceeded to remove the body and make off with it to parts unknown. The Jewish leaders, out of gratitude towards you, for a job well done, defended you and your whole guard from summary execution. Is that how it went Sergeant?
PUBLIUS: (Furious). Yes! Yes! That is what happened! Because that is what I said happened! If you have any further problems with my statement you can take it up with Pontius Pilate himself!
PROSECUTION: (returns to his desk and sits) Well then, I guess that this is what happened. Thank you for your time Sergeant.
PUBLIUS: (rises to leave. Before he can take a step).
PROSECUTION: Oh, just one further thing Sergeant.
PUBLIUS: (stops and glares at Prosecutor).
PROSECUTION: Now that we have firmly established as fact that you and the Guard were sound asleep, I just have one more question.
PUBLIUS: Yes! Yes! What is it?
PROSECUTION: If you and your comrades were all asleep, how do you know that the body was stolen, and didn’t just walk out of there.
PUBLIUS: (open mouthed).