March Madness hits a high point in the middle of the month as conference basketball champions cut down the nets and punch their ticket to the annual NCAA Tournament. It’s called The Big Dance because no less than sixty-five teams are invited to the court and among them is always a Cinderella underdog that rises to fame. Each year Mizzou fans get their hearts broken like an ugly step-sister getting left out more than let in and KU fans bite their nails watching to see if the magic lasts till midnight along the Road to Glory in the Final Four.
Half way through Lent, Christians pause with our own cultic chaos as we skirt our fast and abstinence to partake of the Feasts of Saint Joseph and Saint Patrick. Sicilians and other Italians lead the way by creating Saint Joseph Tables overflowing with cookies, pasta, cannoli, frosia, decorative cakes, and delicious breads. Amidst statues, flowers, holy cards and fava beans, we pray tribute to the foster father of Jesus whose intercession once helped Sicilian villages through a lengthy drought; they claim that he saved their land by transforming it into a fertile and verdant bread basket to care for the hungry villagers, widows, and orphans, giving special attention to foster children as Joseph did for Jesus. Meanwhile, Irish descendants and anyone wishing to be Irish pay tribute to the great Saint Patrick who brought faith to the Emerald Isle at the beginning of the fifth century, transforming pagan wild savages into less-wild Christians by symbolically driving out the snakes—symbol of evil—from the land. We dress in green (or get painted green), lift our glass (or a dozen more), and join in a parade or even dance a jig to celebrate the miraculous historical transition.
At the same time, winter turns to spring and we move our clocks forward. While cold changes to warmth, darkness is conquered by light. In our northern hemisphere, this ritual surrounding the annual vernal equinox helps Christians to better comprehend the path from Lent to Easter because nature simultaneously illustrates the passage from death into life. We view the journey of Christ as a walk from defeat to victory, the Way of the Cross as the true Road to Glory. We consider Lent to be our Spring Training and Easter Sunday to be like opening day of a fabulous new season.
The Lord of the Dance, a hymn by Sydney Carter, illustrates well how Jesus wants us to advance with Him to victory as we participate in His dance from creation to earthly birth, from life to death, and from here to eternity. His ministry of healing while battling the forces of evil and facing opposition from misguided leaders was a frightening sojourn while His recruitment of followers from common walks of life—fishermen to sinners—helped the message and the dance to spread. On the way to Calvary Jesus encountered plenty of defeats and ultimately surrendered to death. But the battle wasn’t over: darkness became light, defeat turned to victory, and death transformed to new life.
There is a bit of chaos in Christianity much as there is a bit of madness each March, some levity in Lent and some spirituality in sports. All part of the big cosmic heavenly dance, it’s a wonderful time to get to the heart of our faith. Even in spite of cultural tributes to great saints in a society that enjoys sports—perhaps also because of them—we can more faithfully understand the ups and downs of our journey and walk with Jesus along the Road to Glory.