Between Amens — Football and a Sunday kind of love

Dr. Karen Shadle

Football season is in full swing, and one of the ways my family observes Sabbath rest is by having games on the television all afternoon and evening.

There’s a certain commercial that seems to play constantly, featuring Etta James’ classic song “A Sunday Kind of Love.” The bluesy strains are accompanied by quick cuts of fans preparing for game day — dressing, cleaning, cooking, rearranging furniture and arguing. 

Finally, there’s the game with players in muddy uniforms taking big hits and fans in the throes of angst, agony and celebration. What a rich theology of football!

I have written before about a theoretical religious instinct that seems to compel humans to worship, even if the object of worship is not God. Sports are so dense with ritual and creed that I simply must draw the comparison and explore what we might take from it as Christians.

What is a Sunday kind of love? It is routine. It runs the same drills over and over. It wears the same uniform. Sunday love is to be contrasted, as the lyrics go, with Saturday night love, which is novel and exciting, candlelit and dressed to the nines. Sunday love is sober and unadorned and perhaps a little boring.

Sunday love hurts sometimes. It hurts like laying out for a pass on a frozen field or getting tackled by a 250-pound linebacker. It hurts like losing a close game. It hurts like rooting for a miserable team.

Sunday love takes hard work. Players with seemingly superhuman athletic abilities are formed only through years of toil in the gym and on the practice field. The game is the tip of the iceberg. For fans and players alike, this is the culmination of countless frustrations and meticulous preparation.

Finally, Sunday love is long-lasting. It abides. It lasts through tough times, injury rehabs and winless streaks. It keeps us warm “when Mondays and Tuesdays grow cold,” sings Etta. It hopes eternally, even when the odds are long.

This little 60-second commercial provides so much excellent commentary on faith. For the NFL enthusiast as for the Christian, the shimmering highlights are just one part of a deep and challenging rule of life. While Christian love certainly has its moments of glory, it is a love more often encountered in routine, suffering, hard work and abiding hope. 

The Church might produce a similar commercial, interspersed with images of the cross and the martyrs, clips of dressing a toddler for church, taking Holy Communion to a prison or building a Habitat House.

On Sunday, the Lord’s Day, we are encouraged to take up the routine preparations of going to Mass, to embrace our hardships and unite them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus, and to persevere even when it’s frustrating or monotonous. 

For all of this, there is a great reward — the joy and comfort of a Sunday kind of love that lasts all week. It is at least as good as a touchdown pass.

I want a Sunday kind of love. What about you?

Dr. Karen Shadle is director of the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Worship.

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