I hope you had a good summer.
At the end of September, on the way to church, I had to cross the route of the Ealing Half-Marathon. We had been warned well in advance about road closures on the day, but I had reckoned that, on a bicycle, I could always wheel the bike along the pavement if needed. That was fine, until I came to the road where the runners were streaming past. We are inside the loop of the course, so short of leaving before 7am or after 10.30, I couldn’t avoid making the crossing at some point. I had to wait quite a while before the runners were spread thinly enough for me to dash through.
While waiting, I was impressed by the sheer number of runners – even at the 3-mile mark, they were filling the whole road – and by the good nature of the event. There were not many spectators but they were cheering and applauding, and the runners responded with smiles and waves.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses racing as an image of the Christian life. He talks of an athlete needing the discipline of training, and setting their eyes on the finishing line. He urges us to treat our faith with the same seriousness and sense of purpose, setting our eyes on the prize of eternal life. (1 Cor 9:24-27)
The problem with this image, for me, is the competitive element – the idea that there is only one winner. I think in fact Paul is suggesting he is competing, not with other people, but with himself, striving to be the best he can for God. In the letter to the Hebrews, there is another image of running which is less about winning and more about completing the course. Paul gives the example of Jesus, suffering so many setbacks, so much that could have discouraged him, and yet he kept going even through the cross. (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Most of the thousands of runners in the Ealing half-marathon will not have been expecting to win; they took part as a personal challenge and to raise money for their chosen charities. The event was cancelled last year, and lockdown meant that gyms were closed and training was difficult, but the runners have come back with renewed vigour and purpose.
As we seem to be emerging from the pandemic, may we too find renewed vigour and purpose in our faith. May we keep going despite setbacks and discouragement, and may we live our Christian faith with hope and joy.