I’ve never been a big sports fan—let’s be clear on that! However, I will attend sporting events or watch them on television if family, friends, or co-workers invite me. I recognize the opportunity for social interaction that can occur during sporting events, and recognize that relationships have to be built and maintained. Not everyone likes to sit around and talk about religion and politics like I do, so a little give-and-take is necessary.
When one has children that are involved in sports, sporting events become even more important. While my daughter is not old enough for sports yet, I can see from my family, friends, and co-workers how sports can positively contribute to the family’s sense of togetherness. When parents go to their children’s sporting events, their children are happy; if the parents have to miss a game for some reason, especially if they had already committed to it, the children are generally disappointed. It’s not just about the sport itself—it’s about the dedication shown and the attention paid to the child. It’s a show of sacrifice, because children know their parents are busy, and seeing them put aside another thing they could be doing in order to attend the sporting event means a lot. We make time for the things that are important to us.
I was raised in a Christian family, and I remember as a child going to church—every Sunday. I also remember that we would go to Church during Holy Week—Thursday and Friday. We went on Christmas, too. It used to be that people who only attended church on Christmas and Easter were called “C and E Christians.” Sometimes that was a label that was thrown around judgmentally—shame on all of us who used it that way—but sometimes it was used not out of judgmentalism, but more out of concern, and even sadness, because there is so much that one loses by not regularly attending Church services. It’s as if a treasure is being offered to anyone that will take it, and yet people pass by the treasure, making excuses for why they can’t accept it (actually, I didn’t come up with that idea—it’s a parable in the Bible. I won’t tell you where it is, though, in case you feel motivated to figure it out yourself!)
Over time, I have noticed that many Christians don’t even attend Church on Christmas or Easter, let alone on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Yet these same people, when prodded, profess to be Christians. They talk about Jesus, the Bible, moral values, etc. Many of them even live a better life than I have. Yet Church attendance doesn’t seem to be on their radar screen. To them, faith in God is something they have “in their heart.” Let’s be clear again—I am not presuming to judge their relationship with God; I am only making an observation and trying to understand how we’ve come to this point.
Perhaps it’s the logical outcome of their Protestant belief system—accept Jesus in some type of personal, spiritual way, and you’re set, so Church is kind of a nice add-on but not really fundamentally necessary. You certainly couldn’t lose your salvation by missing Church, right? (Well, in my opinion, you could, but that’s a different essay topic). The problem is, it’s not just the Protestants among my family and friends that are tempted this way; many Roman Catholic friends and acquaintances are like this, and even some Orthodox, too. Hence I’m not going to delve into the theological underpinnings or try to compare and contrast Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox Churches, but rather continue to focus on the phenomenon itself and why I think it’s unfortunate. I’ll do that by tying it back to sports.
In a few years, let’s suppose my daughter takes up soccer. She begins to do the work, go to practices, train, and starts to go to games. But I never show up.
“Well honey, I love you very much. You’re always in my heart.” I think we all know that excuse would not fly. The response would likely be:
“Then why don’t you show it, Dad?”
To support our children involved in sports, we have to go to the games. It is part of the relationship. In the same way, every Sunday, Jesus is as it were playing a match: in this game, the most important game, he is defeating the Devil, Death, and Sin. It’s really quite an amazing thing, and like our children, Jesus wants us to be there to see it. He wants us to participate. Unlike our children, He doesn’t need our attention, but He does love us, and it makes Him happy when we show our love for Him in return. He also wants us to get something out of the experience—hearing Holy Scripture, receiving Holy Communion, and having fellowship with fellow Christians—which are all things that we can’t do “in our hearts.”
We go to our children’s soccer games, because we love them. If we love Jesus, let’s go to Church, too.