One of my favorite sport movies is Chariots of Fire. It portrays a number of British track members and their journey to the 1924 Summer Olympics. Eric Liddell is a Presbyterian missionary, but also a star Rugby player and runner for Scotland in the 1920s. He makes an ethical, moral stand during the 1924 Paris Olympics. He refuses to run in the 100 meter heats that will take place on Sunday. On the Sunday that the Olympic competition is going on, he is in church reading from this passage from Isaiah, that is today’s first reading.
He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings;
They will run and not grow weary.
The director shows the British athletes doing poorly that Sunday and the Americans winning many of races with great bravado.
Eventually a compromise is made between Liddell and the British Olympic committee and he runs in several other track events, but he never lets others dominate and control him to give up his faith.
On the finals of the 400-meter race, the American coach tells his runners not to worry about Liddell, “He’s a flyer, after 300 meters rigor mortis will set in and they will have to drag him in on a rope.” Jackson Schultz an accomplished and a more humble American runner tells his teammates to be wary of Liddell, his teammate responds, “Coach says no problem.” Schultz replies, "He’s got something to prove, something personal, something that guys like coach will never understand in a million years."
Schultz goes over to Liddell and hands him a note, as Liddell is preparing for the race, he reads the note from Schultz, The Good Book says, “He who honors me, I will honor.”
During this race he broke the world record for the 400 meters despite this not being his strongest event. In the final track scene in the movie, as Eric reaches the backstretch he is imagining in his mind a previous conversation he had with his sister about why he runs. His sister Jenny only thinks his vocation should be as a Christian missionary and nothing else, she sees little value in athletics. Eric says to his sister, “Jenny, I believe God made me for a purpose, he also made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure.” As he crosses the finish line you can see how his personal faith connects to his love of running and by extension his love of God and others.
The Gospel today echoes Eric Liddell’s sentiments about how being a person of faith is a truly joyous experience, not a burden or an experience to be bored with, ”for I am meek and humble of heart, for my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
During this Advent season my hope is that for all of us to feel God’s pleasure and joy in all we do, and we share this joy with all we encounter.
—Gerard Wilson P'15 has been part of the Prep faculty since 1992. Husband of Mary Ann and father of Rebecca, Chris '15 and Alex.