We’re not going to A Day this year. The rain and storm chances are just too high for us to justify spending 6-7 hours in the car making the round trip. (Edited to add: David and Nathan just decided at the last minute to drive down to Auburn, after all.)
(For the uninitiated, A Day is the scrimmage game for Auburn University’s football team. It’s a day where tens of thousands of people gather to watch the team practice inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.)
I never expected to be an “A Day Person.” In fact, I think I only attended one A Day when I was a student at Auburn. I just didn’t understand the point of it. Why would I spend a lovely spring afternoon watching Auburn play Auburn?
David and I went to A Day in 2013 after coming to Georgia to house-hunt for our upcoming move from Arkansas. The media was amazed that the stadium was near its approximately 85,000 capacity for a scrimmage game and said it must be because of the excitement over having a new coach. But everyone in the stadium knew the real reason – the trees. The beloved Toomer Oaks – site of post-game celebrations since before I was born – had been poisoned beyond rescue, and this was to be the very last rolling of Toomer’s Corner before the trees were removed.
Last year, we took our children down to A Day on a kind of last-minute whim, and although it was surprisingly cold for mid-April, we had a great time.
One of the many reasons we decided to move to Georgia from Arkansas was to be closer to Auburn. We wanted to be able to attend more games, and we wanted our children to grow up having that experience. So in the past two years, we’ve gone to Auburn for six games, and during one of those games it hit me – Auburn on game day is a sneak peek of Heaven.
Now before I start getting hate mail, I’m not saying that this experience is unique to Auburn. It’s possible that these things happen with other schools – maybe, just maybe, even that school on the other side of the state. However, I can only speak for Auburn.
1. It’s Home.
I have a friend from college who grew up in a small town in north Alabama. She’s lived in Houston for the past 15-20 years, I think. And yet, if you visit her Facebook page, her cover photo has a picture from Auburn’s campus with the words “This is Home” emblazoned on it. I understand that sentiment completely.
I think maybe it’s because the college years are when an adult is born. It’s a dividing line between who we were and who we’re going to be. It’s when we figure out what parts of our upbringing we’re going to embrace, and which parts we’re going to eschew. As a result, that place becomes a part of our psyche in a very powerful way.
I love the line from the old Gospel song, Beulah Land, “I’m kind of homesick for a country to which I’ve never been before.” Heaven is Home. It’s both our origin (since we are God’s creation) and destination. As believers, Heaven is the source of, and the result of, the single biggest change to ever happen in our lives.
Auburn fans come from all walks of life. Many are graduates, others are not. Some have a lot of money, others do not. Some grew up cheering for Auburn, others discovered it later. When I was a student at Auburn, I taught a Conversational English class at my church, so I can tell you that many Auburn students, graduates, and professors are not even from the US.
But on game day, none of that matters. We are unified by a common interest and a common goal. We’re there to be a part of something big.
Heaven will be filled with people from all walks of life – every nation, every language, every tribe. (Revelation 5:9) Every level of education. Every socioeconomic niche. But none of that will matter. We will be united in our worship of the one true and living God.
3. Common experiences.
We have spent much of our married life outside of the Auburn area. Some years were spent in Washington state where many people had never even heard of Auburn. Other years were spent in states where people certainly knew about Auburn but had a decidedly negative opinion of it. Going back to Auburn is a reminder that I’m not alone in my love of the Tigers or the Loveliest Village on the Plains.
In the same way, the Bible describes Christians as “strangers and exiles” (Hebrews 11:13). Our “citizenship is in Heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In some cases, people around us are openly hostile to Christian values and beliefs. Even here in the Bible belt, and especially in other parts of the country, it can be easy to feel like the only Christ-follower in the world.
Heaven will be a great gathering of people with vastly different stories and yet common experiences. We will know that we are not alone in our love of Christ. In fact, we were never truly alone.
4. Fellow fans are easily identifiable.
Since I’ve had the privilege of living and/or visiting a great deal of the US, I have Facebook friends from all over the place. It always makes me smile when someone sends me a note saying, “I saw an Auburn bumper sticker today and thought of you.” Anyone who has known me in real life for more than a few minutes knows that I’m an Auburn fan and graduate. I’m proud to be associated with Auburn.
Another fun experience is being somewhere random and running into another Auburn fan. It’s not at all unusual to hear “War Eagle!” being exchanged between strangers at an airport or other public venue when one of them is wearing an Auburn shirt or hat. It’s this strange feeling of running into an old friend, only you’ve never actually met.
In the same way, I’ve discovered that often fellow believers are easily identifiable. Sometimes it’s something obvious like what they’re wearing or have stuck to their car. But more often it’s that sense described in the Bible as the Holy Spirit in me “bearing witness with [their] spirit” that they are fellow believers. (Romans 8:16) I just know.
5. There’s a great cloud of witnesses.
When the team comes on to the field to start the game, there’s a tremendous amount of fanfare. The band has just been on the field playing the fight song, the hype video has just been shown on the giant screen, the excitement has reached a fever pitch, and the players run through a path lined by cheerleaders into an arena of 85000 (minus the opposition) screaming fans. We’re all so excited to be there, already proud of our team, and wanting to see them reach their full potential.
Perhaps ironically, some of my very favorite Auburn memories have come after losses instead of wins. After a stunning last-minute defeat, there are moments of silence, and then someone starts chanting, “It’s great … to be … an Auburn Tiger. It’s great … to be … an Auburn Tiger.” Gradually everyone is saying it, and gradually everyone remembers that it’s true. Win or lose, it’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. – Hebrews 12:1
I picture this as a crowd of screaming fans, cheering us on as we run the race of life. They celebrate when we have victories. When we suffer defeat, they remind us that the trials we’re facing are but “light momentary affliction[s].” (2 Corinthians 4:17) And when we finish the race and enter Heaven’s gates, people who have gone on before us will be cheering for us, thrilled that we have finally joined them. At the end of the day, it’s great … to be … a follower of Christ.
Looking out on a sea of orange and blue has an effect on me that I can’t quite describe. It is simultaneously exciting and calming. Growing up, we didn’t go to many football games, but one that we attended several times was the Auburn/Florida game because it was always played on the weekend closest to my birthday. It’s still one of my favorite games for one reason – the whole stadium is orange and blue (even if their blue is the “wrong” blue ).
I’ve discovered over the years that I’m a highly visual person. Colors have an emotional effect on me. I truly struggle during the brown months of late fall and winter and feel a surge of energy at the beginning of spring. Much of our house is painted in a cheery yellow, and our office/school room is a vibrant shade of green.
In the book of Revelation, Heaven is described in great detail, and there is mention of lots and lots of colors. Streets of gold. A sea of crystal or glass. The gates and walls are described as containing many different jewels. But the descriptions say things such as “like a pearl,” “like rubies,” “like an emerald.” I can’t back this up with Scripture, but I expect Heaven to contain all new colors that we’ve never seen or even imagined before. The Lord is infinitely creative, and I suspect He’s been saving up His very best work for later. I feel certain Heaven will not be drab. It will be vibrant! Oh, I can’t wait to see it!
I’m kind of sad to not be headed down to Auburn today. I know that my husband and son will have a great time bonding with each other. They’ll get to know each other a little better and their love will be strengthened. And along with that, they’ll join with the throng of other families, other fathers and sons, other students, other fans, and get another small glimpse of Heaven. War Eagle!!