April 16, 2017
My dear friends,
The Crossroads of life. They are there for all of us. Sometimes life is a struggle and other times life is like the T-shirt says: “Life is good.” You feel the sand between your toes, the waves lap at your feet, you have a cool shell or two in your pocket and the light breeze blows in off the Gulf, feeling at peace. Those are good days. And then it comes. A crossroad. A choice point. Which way now? Right? Left? Straight? What waits down each of those choices? Which way does our heart call us to go? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way? The answers aren’t easy. Life experience and wisdom teaches us that when we take the wrong choices and go the wrong way, it brings pain: emotional, relational, spiritual and maybe even financial pain. All of us…each and every one…has to deal with the crossroads of life.
Throughout Lent and Holy Week we have been examining the various crossroads of life like compassion, obedience, judgment, suffering, forgiveness, and death to name a few. In doing so, I have been doing monologue sermons to give you a chance to “hear from” people from Jesus’ ministry and Passion and how they dealt with their life crossroads. We have “heard from” people like Pontius Pilate, Peter, Malchus, John, Simon the Zealot, and Joseph. And so today, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and focus on the crossroad of life, we will hear from an until-now unnamed Roman Centurion. Today, on Easter Sunday, we hear from Choperuss Abescum Maximillian or “Max” for short.
Greetings people of the one true God. Yes, I was a Roman soldier – a centurion to be precise. That means that I was in charge of 100 soldiers. I suppose you think that the life of a Roman soldier is what you’ve seen in motion pictures. Gladiator-style fighting and conquering foreign lands and marching victoriously through the streets of Rome. That is rarely the life of an average Roman soldier. Most of it is boring…monotonous…routine day in and day out. I thought the proudest day of my life was when I was assigned command of my own company; 100 life-takers and heart-breakers. Then I found out where we were being deployed to…Jerusalem in Judea. Not exactly a glamorous assignment. Little did I know that this assignment would change me forever.
We were stationed in Judea because there had been several uprisings that had to be suppressed. Talk about a letdown! We left behind the glory and grandeur of Rome for the dust and dullness of Judea. Dull, that is, until the arrest of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Jews had brought in Jesus as an insurrectionist and troublemaker. Didn’t look like one, but if The Man says jump, we jump. They brought Jesus into the Praetorium, that is, the Pilate’s official residence in Jerusalem. The boys wanted to have some fun, and so we had some fun that kind of got out of hand. It started innocent enough: we draped one of our scarlet robes on him and a few taunts and jeers. Then some of the boys got a little carried away. Once the blood started to flow, there was no stopping it. The crucifixion was routine enough; we had done a bunch of those. Yet Jesus was so different. Most men begged, cried, swore, or bargained during those agonizing hours. Not Jesus. He spoke so little, and when He did it was words of kindness and compassion and forgiveness and love. 6 hours – for nay victim of crucifixion it’s too long and by comparison for most crucifixions, it was relatively short. With everything I had seen and heard and from what I saw in Jesus, I could only come to ne conclusion: “surely He was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47). And then He was dead.
“Max, make sure that one is dead,” the fellow company commander called out. So I did; I ran my spear into His side (Mark 15:44-45, John 19:34-35). But that wasn’t the end of it. “Max,” Pilate told me back at the Praetorium, “we need you to stand watch over Jesus’ tomb. The Pharisees think they might try and steal the corpse.” And so I did. And what happened next changed me…changed Jerusalem…changed the world. There is really no need to go into detail since that event is why you’re here in the first place. In plain terms, an angel from heaven appeared, rolled back the stone (Matthew 28:2), we were terrified (28:4), Jesus was gone, and the chief priests brought us in, bought us off, and told us to tell people that the disciples stole the body while we slept (28:11-14).
After that it was pretty clear I was playing for the wrong team as it were. My life as a Roman soldier was over after that. Ol’ Choperuss Abescum Maximillian never strapped on a sword again. I quit because as a soldier I was a merchant of death, but in Jesus I saw what life can be and how beautiful life is. It was easy for the commanders to say that there is “glory in death,” because they weren’t the ones charging head-long into the sword and spears of the enemy. There is no beauty in death – only the sting of pain and loss. But in life there is beauty and hope and light. Even a washed-up old solder like myself can see that.
I guess I am living proof (if you can call it that) that even after a lifetime of bad choices, wrong turns, and poor decisions, you can always return to God, the author and creator of life. Don’t you see? Easter, the resurrection is not just a miraculous event, it is a life-changing crossroad for all of us. In the Risen Christ we are found at all of the stopping places of life, all of the dead ends, all the poor choices, all the bad decisions, and called to new life by the one who purchased and gifted new life for us.
As a Centurion, I know what it is to give an order. Orders are letting others know what needs to be done, right? I know that the Risen Christ also gave an order. Jesus has sent us to teach the new life he has given us. He said: “Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). There it is, our Easter challenge and promise. He sends even you and me to be his witnesses and he promises to be with us, to keep on being with us, to keep on coming after us, picking us up and sending us again—to the end of the age.
Happy Easter everyone!