It’s easy to pick the winning team, if you already know who won!

Mark 16:1-7 / John 20:1-9

When I was about the 4th Grade,
there was a big boxing match on TV.

I can’t remember who it was—
Maybe Ali and Frazier—
Maybe Ali and Foreman—
I just don’t remember.

But when my dad and
I sat down to watch the fight—
He said, “I bet you a dollar that
fighter X will knock out fighter Y in the 7th round.

Well, that seemed like
a pretty good bet to me.

Now someone could reasonably guess
that there may be a knock-out—
but could somebody—
like my dad—
no expert on boxing—
pick out the exact round that a
knockout would happen?

It seemed like a pretty good bet to me.

So, we shook hands and
started watching the fight.

Not much of boxing fan,
I was kind of bored until the
7th round got started.

Not only would I win a dollar—
but I would defeat my dad—
who always got the best of me
in all things sports.

And wouldn’t you know—
to incredible my surprise—
in the 7th round—
fighter X knocked out fighter Y.
I was devastated—
I thought I had him—
But I was the loser again.

How did my dad do it?

Well, only later did he tell me.

The fight was fought half-way
around the world in who
knows how many time zones away.

My dad had already heard the results—
The fight we were watch on TV
had already been fought—
it wasn’t live—it was replay.

Things are easy if you already know the outcome—
it’s easy to pick the winning team if you already know who won.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ—
there was a cosmic battle
whose deciding round was fought
during Holy Week 2000 years ago—
and it’s even more violent—more bloody—
than a vicious boxing match.

And at the heart of this cosmic battle
are two different standards—
two different ways of being—
ways of living in the world.

One way of being in the world is
represented by the Romans—
the worldly power in control 2000 years ago.

In the time of Jesus—
the Roman Empire—
the civilized world around the Mediterranean
experienced what historians
call the “Pax Romana”—
the “Roman Peace.”

From about 27 BC to 180 AD—
Which includes the time of Jesus—
there was relative tranquility in the empire.

One way the Romans maintained peace
was by scaring everybody to death.

That was the reasons for
how they put people to death—
by crucifixion.

Processing the condemned person through the city—
then nailing them to a tree
next to a road leading into a city.

It put the fear of Caesar in people.

Another way they would put the fear of Caesar
in people was to show off their military power
and the successes and spoils of their military conquests.

When a victorious Roman general
would win a major battle—
killing at least 5000 of the
enemy and ending a war—
the Romans would have a
great procession—
they called it their “Triumph.”

This grand parade—
would make its way
through the city of Rome
down the “Via Sacra”—
the “sacred way”—
through the magnificent Roman Forum.

The magistrates and members
of the Senate marched first—
followed by the trumpeters.

Then wooden placards—
held high with the painted names—
in large letters—
of vanquished nations.

Then would come the white bulls or
oxen destined for sacrifice to the gods.

Then the spoils of war—
the accumulated silver and gold and
other valuables plundered from the losers.

Then came the captured prisoners—
first the leaders of the conquered land—
then the common folk—
humiliated by being bound in chains.

Then the victorious general or emperor—
riding in a laurel draped chariot.

The victor would wear a
royal purple and golden tunic—
holding a laurel branch in his right hand and
an ivory scepter in his left.

A slave held a golden crown over
the general’s head.

Then the Roman soldiers—
the legions upon legions of
Roman soldiers—
marching in formation—
their spears raised and adorned with laurel.

And the people of Rome would line the
streets adorned with garlands shouting:

On reaching the Temple of Jupiter—
the general would present his laurel
to the image of Jupiter.

And the prisoners of war were slain
in a most brutal fashion—
and their bodies,
along with the slain bulls and oxen
were offered up in a great fire as
a sacrifice to Jupiter.

The message was clear—
“Don’t mess with Rome!!!”
“We are strong!!!”
“We are powerful!!!”

That’s how the great human powers do it!!!

That’s how the “peace” was maintained.

But there is another way of being in the world—
another standard.

And it is represented by another type of procession—
Jesus’ Way of the Cross—
Certainly, a different type of parade.

A parade that exhibits not of power and might—
But of gentleness and mercy.

Not of threat and domination—
but of self-sacrificial love and servitude.

Not of manipulation and violence—
But of truth and healing—

Jesus’ way of the Cross
Is the way of turning the other cheek—
of forgiving seventy times seven—
of loving one’s enemies.

Jesus’ way of the Cross
Is a way not of showing off the spoils
of silver and gold—
but of the poverty shown by the Son of God—
Of taking care of the least—
Of washing feet.

It’s a way where the victor doesn’t
wear a golden crown—
but a crown of thorns.

It’s a way where the victor rides not in laurel draped chariot—
But is hung on a tree.

And two thousand years ago—
On Good Friday—
It looked like the match between
these two different ways of being was over.

Jesus crucified—
Laid in a tomb—

It is finished.

But the next day the women come to the tomb—
It is empty.

And then Jesus appears to his mother to the apostles—
And then according to St. Paul He
appears to hundreds of others—
He is not dead—
He is alive—
He is risen.

Now the game—the match—
is really over.

Jesus Christ the Victor emerges
Having defeated all the sin and violence
that humanity can throw at Him—
And not just the greatest of human powers—
but defeating death itself.

Don’t believe it?
Think it’s all some April fool’s joke.

Well, it’s hard to explain away—
the concocted stories that non-believers
have come up to explain all of this away
is quite the stretch.

No one denies He died—
No one denies the empty tomb—
And multiple, multiple witnesses to the risen Jesus—
And those who witnessed the risen Jesus
Went from cowards to martyrs—
Hard to explain away—
Who would give their life for some April fool’s joke?
You know, things are easy if you
already know the outcome.

It’s easy to pick the winning team—
if you already know who won—
like we do.

That makes our choice an easy one.

Two possible ways of being:
the way of the Roman Triumph—
or the way of the Cross.

If we live with Him by
traveling the way of the Cross with Him—
We will rise with Him—

Holy Spirit 4/01/2018

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