One thing that’s on everybody’s mind this week?
No, not the election. Baseball.
The Cubs won the World Series this week, man.
Dr. Thomas G. Long, my preaching professor, loves to describe the complexities of biblical studies and church life through baseball. He puts it something like this.
Imagine a baseball game. Bottom of the seventh inning. One out. Runner on first. Score tied. The batter steps into the right handed batter’s box, about a few inches closer than the last time so that he can better adjust to the right handed pitcher’s nasty curve ball, which struck him out the last time. The pitcher notices this and shakes off the catcher’s first suggestion of a curve ball. The catcher then calls a fast ball, inside. Glancing in to see the catcher’s sign, the shortstop moves to his right, ready to cover the hole between short and third, ready to steal a hit, but also well aware that he will have to cover second on a ground ball to the right side. As he moves, he throws up one finger, then three fingers, behind his back to the left fielder, who begins to inch towards the left field line. The catcher finishes giving the sign, puts dirt on his right hand, crouches, ready to throw out the runner if he goes. The pitcher glances at the runner over his shoulder once, again, takes his fastball grip, then fires. Outside. Ball one.
Somewhere in the stands, a friend sighs. “Nothing ever happens in baseball.” (1)
Indeed, sometimes nothing happens for 108 years. Baseball takes attention and dedication and devotion, but it reaped big rewards on Wednesday night when the Cubs won the Series. One of the most touching parts of it all, to me, was watching people write in chalk on the brick walls of Wrigley. The messages began as messages of support, and the messages grew as someone helpfully placed boxes of chalk along the walls. “Go Cubs Go,” one read. “Fly the W,” read another one. Then someone wrote, “Wish you were here, Grandpa.” And someone else wrote, “We love you, Dad! Go Cubbies!”
There, standing on the edge of what they once thought was impossible, people wanted to look back and remember the people who had so loved their Cubs, but never lived to see their glory.
And then, later in the week, the once buried, once cursed Cubs finally won a World Series.
As Red Sox fans, some of you understand: there’s a lot of heartbreak in baseball, and progress happens slowly, so slowly. “Maybe we have the guys to do it this year,” we say. But if we don’t, we say, there’s always next year. It’s the kind of thing that people who don’t like baseball just don’t understand. “Nothing ever happens in baseball.”
Oh, but sometimes things do happen. And when they happen the way that they did on Wednesday night, it is an emotional experience that brings the whole country to happy tears in a year when we’ve had so little good news.
And we remember those who came before, those who loved their team and kept hope alive for so long. The Cubs nation owed them — for teaching them to love their Cubbies, for teaching them the traditions, for helping the fans have hope every single spring that the cursed Chicago Cubs may finally do it this year. Without those who came before and experienced all those heartbreaks but kept believing, Wednesday night would have been impossible.
As I read the story of the Wrigley Field walls this week, of all the names written there, I sniffled, sending it to another pastor friend with two comments: the first was “I’m not crying, you’re crying.” The second one was “This is All Saints’.”
All Saints’ is more than just remembering those that have passed on. It is remembering them lovingly as the people who made all of this possible. Who kept believing in this crazy thing called Jesus and kept hope alive for one more cycle that real peace is possible. And the church, which is always standing on the edge of this impossible dream of peace and reconciliation that only God can bring about, gives thanks for them every single year. The Roman Catholics have their own way of categorizing saints, but as for us, we recognize everyone, as we see everyone as saint and sinner, redeemed and loved by God.
Some of the saints have names to us — mothers, grandfathers, fathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, siblings, partners, friends. They weren’t perfect, in fact, some of them may have done tremendous good or tremendous harm, and for most of them, the record was mixed, because we are all saint and sinner. But they all shaped us into who and what we are today. Their smiles, their eyes, their voices, stay with us because they shaped us. Even long after they die, the saints stay with us.
Other saints, we never had a chance to know. They are our ancestors — both our literal ones and our ancestors in faith. Some of them made it into the Bible, and some lived long after it was written. They are St. Peter and St. Anne, St. Lydia and St. Paul.
And today is the day that we remember and give thanks for them. We speak and write their names and we look at photographs as we remember their faces. We light candles around our table today as we think of our loved ones as part of the heavenly throng, gathered around Christ’s table. For just a moment, today in the assembly, we imagine heaven and earth are joined.
No, they weren’t perfect, but without them, none of this would be possible. They brought a faith into being and changed the world, but it took a long, long time, and it’s still going. And we, like the fans at Wrigley, remember the saints that made where we are possible as we stand on the edge of the impossible, the edge of anxiety, the edge of hope.
The edge of anxiety right before an election. The edge of the impossible as we try to love our enemies in a world where our enemies, personal, foreign, and domestic, hate us with what seems like newfound passion.
And we remember our ancestors who have also lived through turmoil and lived through war and lived through division. And we remember that just as they did not solve all of humanity’s problems, neither must we. We must simply, as the Cubs fans did all of those years, keep hope alive, faithfully, loyally, year after year.
At Wrigley Field this week, Danny Camacho balanced on the gates as his uncle, Maurice Vazquez, held him up as he tried to find a good place to write in chalk on the brick wall. Maurice explained what the pair were doing there.
“We’re here for my father, my nephew Danny’s grandfather, an awesome Cubs fan. He’s not with us any more, he’s with the Good Lord, and he’s why we’re down here. To give [the Cubs] strength so they can win the World Series.” Vazquez said. “I think this is a great thing for them so they can see the loyalty of the fans. And believe me, we’re loyal!”
We are here for our fathers, our grandfathers, our grandmothers and our mothers and our siblings and our friends. We’re here for spouses and children. We stand on the edge of the impossible, the edge of anxiety, remembering our loved ones in our past and hoping for the best in our futures, knowing that our loved ones are a part of that future, too, because they helped to build it, brick by brick, pitch by pitch, slowly. We’re here to figure out what we can do and be together, as this assembly, and what God will do among us. And if anyone knows how to root for a team that’ll break your heart, it’s God. And believe me, God is loyal. Amen.
Title Photo: http://www.thepostgame.com/cubs-fans-turn-wrigley-field-walls-memorial
(1) Thomas G. Long, lecture, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, 2009.
(2) Maggie Hendricks, “My journey to Wrigley Field, where fans are chalking the names of their loved ones on the walls,” USA Today, 2 November 2016, http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/11/my-journey-to-wrigley-field-where-fans-are-chalking-the-names-of-their-loved-ones-on-the-walls