Running the Race
A few years ago, whilst working as a GP, I had a visit from a man who had ruptured his Achilles tendon, that which attaches the calf muscle to the heel. He was rather embarrassed to explain that it happened during the Dad’s race at the school sports day. Out of condition and sprinting from a cold start, his hope of sporting glory was cruelly cut short by a ‘pop’ in the back of his leg and a humiliating crash to the ground.
School sports days with their egg-and-spoon, sack and other races, are very much a summer tradition. Summer and sport are closely associated for many people, whether it be following Wimbledon, the Tour de France, the US Open, cricket Test Matches, the Summer Olympics, family rounders, or welly-wanging at the village fete.
The Apostle Paul was fond of describing the Christian faith in terms of sport. Writing to a first-century church in the Greek city of Corinth, the location of an annual Games, second only in importance to the ancient Olympics, he says, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the Games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." 1 Corinthians 9:24-25.
So how is the Christian life like a race?
For a start, it only lasts for a time. Some get to run a great distance, others much less, but we each have a limited time on this earth, that we should “live aright”, as the funeral service puts it.
Secondly, it needs commitment. As with studying for exams (another summer tradition!), long-term relationships, parenting children, or pursuing a career or significant project, the Christian faith takes day-in, day-out commitment and focus. Every day we have to choose whether to press on or ‘throw in the towel’.
Thirdly, it has a goal. If we decide to don the kit and get down onto the track in the full view of the crowd of spectators to join the Christian race, we are doing so because there is a prize to be won, a ‘crown’ as Paul puts it.
Thankfully, It does not depend on our performance, since it is a team sport, but we do need to be on the team. Jesus, through his life, death and resurrection, has won the prize for us, which will be shared with all the team members.
So if you are worried that taking part risks rupturing a spiritual Achilles tendon or worse, fret not. The eternal crown is already in the hands of the victorious team captain.
Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell with Chilton