Sunday, February 4, 2007

Baseball Eschatology (Part Three)

(Note: On Sundays I am posting a Sabbath blog, my logic being that the Sabbath is a good day to post about things that I enjoy. Fun writing is recreational writing, I figure. So, here is Sabbath post #5.)

There is an eschatological dimension to the game of baseball.

Two Sundays ago, in part one of this essay, I said that in baseball there is a realized and an unrealized eschatology. Last Sunday, in part two, I said that the eschatology of baseball has some elements in common with the biblical concept of the Day of the Lord. In particular, what at first blush seems like a final and complete baseball victory is really only temporary, for, once a World Series championship is won, the winning team’s attention must turn almost immediately to the attempt to win the next one. That reality parallels in some ways the biblical prophets’ notion of the Day of the Lord, in which they envisioned “little” days all along the way to the “big” and final consummation of God’s purposes.

Today I want to point out some ways in which the baseball off-season parallels the church’s experience of “living between the Advents.”

“Advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” The first Advent of the Messiah occurred at Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. We await his second Advent. In the meantime, we live in the meantime. That is, we live in the time between the Advents. It appears from the New Testament evidence that the early Christians expected Jesus to return in the near, from their perspective, future. That caused some of them to sit back and wait without contributing anything positive to society. It is in that context that we should hear Paul’s admonition that those who would not work would not eat. In other words, the “between the Advents” “in the meantime” waiting of Christians is to be an active waiting. We are to be sharing the Good News, helping the hurting, ministering to the sick, feeding the hungry, and generally being contributing members of society. While we are to wait, we are to do, so that we will be as ready as possible for the Savior to come.

The 2006 baseball season ended on October 26, when the St. Louis Cardinals won game five of the World Series and took the Series from the Detroit Tigers, four games to one. The 2007 baseball season will begin for my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, either, depending on how you look at it, on February 15, when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, or February 20, when position players report, or February 28, when the Braves play an exhibition game against Georgia Tech, or March 1, when they open their Major League Spring Training schedule versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, or April 2, when they open their regular season at home against the Philadelphia Phillies. But, no major league team has been doing nothing during the so-called “off-season.” They can’t. Those who don’t work, don’t eat.

Indeed, while there is a period during which no major league baseball games are being played, there is really no such thing as a baseball “off-season.” In the first place, the players are doing everything they can do to stay in shape. Some play in the Caribbean League or the Mexican League, some play in the Fall Instructional League, and others follow an individualized exercise regimen to stay in shape. In the second place, the management of every team is working hard to improve the team for the upcoming season. Before the advent of the new season, the owners, the general managers, and the managers want to make sure that they have put the best possible team together. Thus, they make trades, sign free agents, and release players, trying to put the best team on the field that they can. It’s all about being active and productive during the time between the actual seasons so that, when the advent of the new season dawns, the team will be found ready.

There’s one more aspect of this component of baseball eschatology on which I’d like to comment. In his parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus taught that like a farmer had to wait until harvest time to separate the two, so the church would have to wait until the final judgment to finally experience the separation of those who were truly kingdom citizens from those who weren’t. That is certainly the case. Still, all along the way, as 1 John put it, some go out from the church because they were not really of the church. (On the other hand, some stay put who don’t belong and some hang out just beyond the fringes who really do belong, but I’ll have to get to that some other time.)

Of course, not all of those who leave us do so voluntarily or under negative circumstances. Others leave us because they have gone home to be with the Lord. I hope it doesn’t sound trite to say that those folks have really reached home plate and have truly scored the winning run.

How can such thoughts be applied to baseball? The other day I was looking at a program from a Braves game that was played at Turner Field in 2001. The program included the Braves’ 40-man roster for that season. Only three players who were on that 40-man roster in 2001 remain on it today: Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, and John Smoltz. In the span of six years, 37 players of the 40 who were on that roster have been removed from it. Some are with other teams and some are out of baseball altogether. Some were not a good fit. For whatever reason, they are not on the Braves’ roster because they are no longer of the Braves’ organization. Most have simply gone on to other and I hope just as or even more meaningful phases of their lives. But the roster does change from year to year. Most of the time, we miss the ones who are gone. Maybe we miss some more than others. But the changes in the lineup do come.

This concludes my ruminations on baseball eschatology.

Oh, one more thing: I firmly believe that there will be baseball in heaven. Eternity is all about symmetry, I think, and heaven and baseball just go together too well not to be together for ever. It is said that on a beautiful summer day Ernie Banks, the great Cubs legend, would look around and say, “Let’s play two!” When I open my eyes in heaven one day, I anticipate looking around and saying, “Let’s play two million!”

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