On Hockey and Death

Hockey is a great sport. It’s intuitive and basically anybody can play it and have fun. On a professional level, it is the only sport that doesn’t flip out when two guys begin punching each other.
As a kid, my dad would take me to a lot of hockey games with my brother and sister. We would go to the old Arena in St. Louis, where the Blues played. It has since been demolished, but I remember the old seats and the clouds of cigarette smoke. We would drive from the suburbs, and I had heard some really bad stories about the crime rates downtown. St. Louis competes with a handful of other cities for the most violent city in the US each year.

All those things in mind, we would park a few blocks from the Arena and walk the rest of the way. I wasn’t a scared kid, necessarily, but I had seen enough scary movies to know what could happen. We would get out of the car in a parking garage. It was often dead silent, or there were just a few other fans walking towards the arena. Unlike the suburbs, downtown streets have many more blindspots. I would be bracing myself for somebody to jump out at us around every corner. We would start walking and a homeless guy would ask us for money.

If you had a dad that you trusted, you will know what it is like to grab their hand in those kinds of situations. The fear doesn’t disappear, you still feel like you are in danger, but you also feel safe. That kind of reassurance is paradoxical. The foe still seems unconquerable, but you are certain everything is going to be alright. And after eating nachos, asking what ‘offsides’ was, screaming with glee during the fights, and spilling a soda or two, we would always get back to the car and then home safe and sound.

That little reflection was my best attempt to illustrate the paradoxical reassurance of the Gospel over a foe as great as Death itself. C.F.W. Walther, a St. Louisan before the National Hockey Leauge existed (but I like to imagine he would have been a Blues fan), writes:

When Death summons us hence, we can, though void of any feeling, follow him confidently and say: “I shall gladly go with you. I praise God for my escape from this terrible prison. I entertain no doubt that I shall stand before the throne of a gracious God. Why? Not because I feel that way; not because I have performed good works; not  because I have amended my mode of living. All these things would be sinking sand; for it is quite possible that in the hour of death feelings of gladness will forsake me. Being accustomed to rely on the Word, I have the trusty staff which I need for support at my passage through the dark valley of death.”

God is not waiting for you to do something bold before you can cling onto his hand for reassurance that all he has is now yours. Christ’s death is your death, and Christ’s risen, eternal life is now your life. Go in peace, and enjoy a few hockey games along the way.

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