Hard not to notice that this year we have almost a perfect overlap of March Madness and Lent. The grand finales are only one day apart. With Easter on April 1 and the championship for Division I men’s basketball on April 2. That sunrise service for Easter may be rough when the second Final Four game does not start until 8:49 p.m. (ET) the night before. But just maybe, there are more overlaps than just the calendar. For example, I might ask do you have a theology of March Madness? One of the definitions of theology is “a set of religious beliefs;” spiritual, sacred, devout believes. Maybe we would do well to compare theologies through our Lenten behavior and our March Madness behavior?
Preparation is certainly important. For some filling out your picks for the brackets may be very nearly a religious exercise. Our beliefs about certain teams, our understanding of history, our loyalties, and of course, our propensity to pull for the underdog all play a part. Might ask did we spend more time this year preparing our bracket picks than preparing for Lent?
Commitment is certainly important. You have to be public about your bracket picks as well. I understand that this tournament is likely the largest betting operation of anything that occurs during the year. Putting some of your resources on the line is an expectation. I hope this does not include the grocery money. But it certainly does make it more interesting. One reminder would be if you are a big winner, do not forget to include a tithe for your church. Christians have a history of making special commitments for Lent. This may include either giving up something or taking on something. Did you make such a commitment this year?
Regular discipline is demonstrated throughout the tournament. It is impressive how many of us follow the brackets. Follow the results of even the teams we may never heard about before the tournament. Of course, the sports press and internet give us ready access to tools for this discipline. Lent is an opportune time for Christians, individually or with the support of a group, to be disciplined about our faith commitments as well. Maybe even building some muscle memory for the rest of the year.
An article in Christianity Today points out the opportunity for redemption, for renewal, for another chance is also one of the more overlooked biblical parallels to sport. Redemption gives us hope that we can do better next year, hope that things can change, and hope that we will grow. Through the sacrament of baptism, we are made new in Christ. The stream of the living water continually washes away our sins and gives us new opportunities to live again in rightness with God. Jesus’ death on the cross means that hope springs eternal, offering us access to God’s love and favor at all times.
Okay, true confession time. I must admit I think March Madness and Lent are totally compatible. Even though my brackets are completely blown, I do not see conflict in doing both well. Cheer on and enjoy.
As Lenten provides opportunities to come together as a religious community, we have two occasions on Good Friday, March 30. The Delaware Ministerial Association has organized its annual Cross Walk to begin at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 82 E. William St., Delaware at 11 a.m. This will be followed by a Community Good Friday Service, also at St. Mary’s at noon. Please plan to come to one or both. By the way, neither time conflicts with the Final Four tournament games! Hope to see you there.
Robert J. Gustafson is pastor of West Berlin Presbyterian Church, 2911 Berlin Station Road, Delaware.