Sunday is a high holy day. No, it is not Christmas or Pascha. Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday, a major feast day for those who follow the religion called football. Sarcasm aside, I wonder if there are a few parallels between the religion of football and the religion of Christianity. Below is a list of comparisons for your perusal.
First, the National Football League (NFL) has a team in most major cities in America. Each team is designated with a team name, like the Jets or the Steelers. The church, on the other hand, has communities scattered across the country, each with a specific name such as St. Nicholas or Annunciation Church.
Second, football teams play in massive stadiums, some seating 80,000 of its faithful. The stadiums are decorated with banners, advertising billboards, and an entertaining scoreboard. Our parishes meet in church buildings where we sit in pews instead of box seats. The church sanctuary is decorated with icons, candles, a cross, and colorful garments worn by the priest.
Third, football teams have fight songs, sung especially loud following a touchdown or great play. Fans sing in unison and act out hand and body gestures to emphasize their enthusiasm. Christians have hymns that praise God and remind us of the greatness of our creator. Some congregations have chanters who sing a cappela, while others have choirs with organ accompaniment.
The NFL has a Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where the stars of the past come to life. Game jerseys, video highlights, and other artifacts provide a living history of the sport. Our church honors saints, where the holy people of the past are remembered for their virtues and service to God. We have icons, biographies, and relics that tell the story of these “all-stars.”
The NFL has rituals that express the faith of their fans. There is tailgating before a game, subscription to team magazines, and the wearing of team jerseys with one’s favorite players’ number. The Orthodox faith has rituals as well. We participate in worship services and sacraments as a way of growing in our journey with Christ. We wear crosses as a reminder of their faith in Jesus.
For devout football followers there are shrines that are visited, much like a pilgrimage. People travel to Wisconsin in order to visit and touch the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Others create a shrine in their home to pay homage to their sporting heroes. Helmets, autographed game balls, and ticket stubs remind the faithful of their devotion to the team. Christians have shrines as well. We visit holy sites in Jerusalem or where saints have lived. We have shrines in homes, prayer corners where icons, candles, prayer ropes, holy water, the Bible, prayer books, and other items reinforce one’s commitment to Christ.
Have I taken this comparison between the religions of football and Christianity too far? I do not mean to demean athletics in general or football in particular. I also will be watching the game Sunday with one billion other people. But I wonder if we as Christians have lost our balance or perspective on things. Why is it that we can memorize the career statistics of Tom Brady but cannot remember a few verses from Scripture? Why is it that we can sit in the snow and rain for three hours watching a football game but balk at attending a church service at the first sign of a snowflake?
By all means enjoy the game Sunday. There is much to learn from athletics: teamwork, goal setting, sacrifice, and many other positive attributes. But as Christians, we need to keep the big picture always at the forefront. Jesus reminds us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. One hundred years from now few will remember the winner of Sunday’s game. But one hundred years from now our soul will still be of great value – to us, and to God.