Christ’s marching orders to His apostles are spelled out on page one of The Acts of the Apostles– “You will be My witnesses,” said Jesus.
So forth they marched in what St. Paul called a “triumphal procession” (2 Corinthians 2:14) from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, to Samaria, to the Gentile world, to the ends of the earth for some 20 wide centuries.
How does Paul see all of this? He says: “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
In a culture which measures success statistically and visibly, we might wonder how Paul can describe his ministry as a “triumphal procession.”
Paul’s missionary journeys are marked by public floggings and imprisonments, by assaults and riots, by persecution and rejection. Many of his congregations teeter on the brink of defecting to show-biz-for-Jesus counterfeits.
Still, Paul talks as though he is winning. He sees his own ministry and that of the other apostles as a triumphal procession, as though the angels were scattering fragrant rose petals on their path in a victorious parade.
In the triumphal processions of Paul’s day, the conquering heroes returned home, riding in their flower-bedecked chariots through the streets to the cheers of the crowd. Behind them were the prisoners of war in chains, sullen captives with suppressed hatred flashing from their sunken eyes, trudging to execution at the end of the parade. Out in front was the victorious general in his chariot, his children alongside him on white ponies. Flowers carpeted the ground.
In the true, triumphal procession of the gospel leading up to Judgment Day, the winners and the losers, the conquerors and the conquered, all smell the same flowers, the same fragrance, said St. Paul. For the winners, it is the sweet fragrance of life eternal. For the losers, it is the smell of a funeral, their own. Now in these last and dangerous days, may God grant us by His gospel and grace to believe Christ, to smell the roses of victory, and by faith to forever be saints triumphant!