Making preparation for the season's 'Big Inning'

The Reverend Thomas C. Willadsen

As Holy Week begins, the one week year when I work more than one day, I am pondering my favorite, annual coincidence: Easter and the start of the major league baseball season are within a few days of each other.

For Christians, Easter is the holiest day of the year. We worship on Sunday each week because our Lord and Savior rose on a Sunday. Each week Sunday is a "little Easter" and each Easter is a "big Sunday."

For centuries, Christians have used the days before Easter to prepare new believers for baptism and full inclusion into the church, the Body of Christ. Today the season of Lent, which this year began February 25, is a time for reflection and repentance for all Christians, as we get ready to journey with Christ to the cross and celebrate the resurrection.

Christians in the Northern Hemisphere are fortunate because we see lots and lots of signs of new life as our days lengthen. We have been hearing birds singing for weeks now. The leaf sucker has made another pass down the streets, clearing away the leaves that it could not get to last fall because the first snow was so early. The rhubarb and day lilies are putting their first, tentative shoots above the ground. All these signs of new life, or renewed life, coincide with the most dramatic sign of new life we know, the Resurrection.

All these signs of new life point to another renewal, the renewal of Hope as another baseball season starts. As a life-long fan of the Chicago Cubs, many years Hope is all I get. The Hope that comes most surely on Opening Day, when "my boys," like everyone else's, are in first place. No runs, no hits, no errors...yet.

Opening Day, like Easter, is preceded by a season of preparation, which also begins in February. Veterans and promising rookies spend about 40 days getting in shape, practicing, learning new signs, all of which lead up to the promise of a new beginning.

The promise of Hope that is reborn on Easter and Opening Day is significant for me as a Christian and baseball fan. And I know that Hope is the evidence of things not seen. For me, Hope is not a Wild Card Berth, though one could say that Christians' hope began with a Wild Card Birth, Hope is the dawn of the possibility that maybe this time, things will go differently. Maybe this time Peter will stand strong; maybe this time the Cubs' hitting will not disappear in the first round of the play offs. Hope means this time it might be different.

This year I am fortunate, blessed even, because after beginning the day singing, loudly and not particularly well, "Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia" [Charles Wesley, 1739] I will travel to Milwaukee and see the Cubs take on the local nine. There I will sing, "We're born again, there's new grass on the field." [John Fogerty, 1985] Both are songs celebrating new life.

Christ is risen!

Play ball!

Hallelujah!

This column first appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern, April 9, 2009.