It’s time for football. The second Packers preseason game is tonight. Time for a comparison post that would only come from yours truly. Expect nothing less from a proud Packers shareholder!
A couple of years ago, a line from an article by Vic Ketchman on the Packers website caught my attention, at least enough to save it for a future blog post. Ketchman wrote:
I like sitting in the Lambeau Field press box in pregame, looking out over the top of the stadium and watching the smoke rise from the tailgate fires. I like the idea that the way it is now is the way it was a long time ago, just a whole lot of football fans going to a football stadium to watch a football game.
Earlier in the article, he also observed:
Packers players enter the playing field at Lambeau by passing through a tunnel and over bricks on which Lombardi, Starr and company walked. …
When visitors to Lambeau Field ask, “Which end zone is it?” they are inquiring as to which end zone Bart Starr scored the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl.” …
Lambeau Field … reveres its history and its traditions. Major renovations have not compromised Lambeau a bit. Lombardi still lives there and you feel his presence.
Ketchman is not alone. How many on-air football experts love the history and tradition of the Packers? Can’t you hear the voice of John Madden echoing his love of Lambeau? Okay, I know I’m biased, but it seems like most everyone I’ve heard on radio and TV admires what the Packers have going for themselves. Part of the Packers’ greatness (and some other teams, too, like — dare I say it? — the Steelers, the Bears, etc.) comes from their history and tradition. History and tradition is where it’s at for football, at least according to several NFL commentators and experts.
To be sure, the NFL isn’t “stuck” in its history: Stadiums expand (witness Lambeau’s newly completed south end zone, bringing capacity to 80,000 plus); the game evolves (especially as safety concerns mount); rules change (Raiders fans will celebrate the demise of the “tuck rule” this year); uniform designs are tweaked (though teams occasionally don throw back jerseys to celebrate their history); technology is introduced (though not everyone is a fan of instant reply, especially when it fails to correct the errors of replacement ref’s!). But at its core, American football fans gather each week around a game with a rich history and tradition — a history and tradition proudly displayed in Canton, Ohio, and in each team’s individual Hall of Fame museum, and proudly celebrated for 60 minutes of regulation in multiple venues around the nation each fall and winter weekend. History and tradition are where it’s at Sunday afternoon.
So, how about Sunday morning?
To be sure, the church need not and ought not be “stuck” in its history: Architectural designs change (just compare liturgical Lutheran churches built today with those of two or three generations ago); elements of the Liturgy evolve (in some services, the Kyrie has evolved from a post-confession plea to a confessional prayer); rubrics and customs change (some pastors now face the assembly for the invocation, viewing it as a reminder of the assembly’s baptismal status rather than a calling on the name of the Lord); pastoral vestments are tweaked (there really needs to be a ban on cinctures for anyone who carries too much “theological gravity” around his waist, as I do!); technology is introduced (in some places to make sermon applications visual and concrete, in others to produce the sounds of a pipe organ without an organ or organist). But at its core, Christians gather around the Word-and-Sacrament-administering Liturgy week after week, a service with a rich history and tradition connecting us to countless ages of Christians gone before us, proudly celebrated for 60 (okay, 70) minutes in multiple sanctuaries around the world each Sunday.
All useful modernization aside (and there are many legitimate examples), and always keeping Scripture, sermon, and Sacraments at the top of our list of priorities, isn’t it worth it for us to retain visible and meaningful components of our history and tradition in our worship each week — customs that help people to have a sense of the larger Christian fellowship they are a part of throughout time and space, customs that proclaim law and gospel in a way that imitates the faith of those who have gone before us (Hebrews 13:7)?
If history and tradition are valuable on Sunday afternoon, wouldn’t they also be valuable on Sunday morning?
Go, Pack, Go!