“On Busting Brackets”

I am not a big fan of college basketball but I hear from those who follow the sport this year is all about upsets. The 2021 NCAA tournament, known more affectionately as “March Madness,” has witnessed a fair share of surprises. Brackets are being busted across the board as some of the unlikeliest contenders advance to playoff berths no one dared dream they would ever achieve. Of the 16 remaining teams, four were ranked 11 or higher going into the tournament. “Madness” indeed, and perhaps even more to come as college basketball delivers surprises, and delight, to its fans.

There’s another surprise brewing, this one in the season of Lent. The carpenter from Nazareth, who many in his day surely viewed as “mad,” enters into the capital city of Jerusalem riding a donkey’s colt. He is greeted by an adoring crowd who welcome him with shouts of “Hosanna!” and praise to the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Days later, on a Friday afternoon, he is hanging on a cross. The crowds who cheered him turned and called for his death. The Roman governor, who saw no guilt in him, stilled the mob by signing his death warrant. By the end of the week, Jesus was dead and in his grave, another would-be Messiah consigned to the dustbin of history. Score one, as always, for the Roman Empire.

But God had other plans. On the third day, a Sunday morning, some women go to the tomb. They find it empty and hear the words of the angels: “He is not here, he is risen.” They run to tell the disciples, who refuse to believe, until Jesus appears before them alive and better than well. The Resurrection of Jesus was God’s “yes” to the world’s “no.” It is the ultimate “bracket busting” move that triumphs over the old enemies of sin and death. What was a surprise to disciples, Jewish religious leaders, and Romans alike is a delight to all who come to faith in God’s gift of eternal life given through the life, death, and new life of Jesus Christ.

This week, we travel a path that begins at the high point of Palm Sunday and passes through a valley of darkness, betrayal, and death. We must walk this pilgrim path in order to understand what Love has done for us. For at the end of the path is Life; at the end of the trail, we find a new beginning.

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