Do you know that feeling where you’re about to enter into an activity and success is already essentially assured? It’s like all that’s required of you is that you show up and complete the task. Maybe it’s a paper that’s practically going to write itself. A game that you’re sure to win. A contest in which you’re virtually unopposed. “It’s in the bag.” Maybe you say that.
The phrase “It’s in the bag” is said to come to us from the world of baseball. It’s a world where statistics are meticulously kept, probabilities analyzed, and the possibility that a game might be over before it’s actually completed is thought to be a real thing. It’s also a game with a long history of superstitions.
One citation of the phrase reportedly occurred in the Ohio newspaper, the Mansfield News, in 1920.
“An old superstition was revived at the Polo grounds, New York, recently when Eddie Sicking was dispatched to the clubhouse with the ball bag at the start of the ninth possession of one run lead. This superstition originated during the run of twenty-six consecutive victories made by the Giants in 1916, the significance of it resting in a belief that if the bag is carried off the field at that stage of the game with the Giants in the lead the game is in the bag and cannot be lost.”
Christian worship provides us with another, more certain, occasion when a victory is “in the bag.” When Christians gather at the table of Holy Communion, the language of the liturgy accompanies and interprets the gathering. Singing over the bread and the wine, the presiding minister makes this (or a very similar) proclamation:
Through [Jesus’] cross and resurrection, he freed us from sin and death and called us to the glory that has made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart. Everywhere we proclaim your mighty works for you have called us out of darkness into your own wonderful light. And so with all the choirs of angels in heaven, we proclaim your glory and join their unending hymn of praise*
At which point the whole assembly begins to sing a song that samples from both the song of the angels or seraphim as well as the shouts of the crowd as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with palm branches.
What is being asserted by faith is that in the gathering at the table, Christ is present in a victory that we both anticipate and are fully receiving at the same time. Our future salvation and restoration breaks into our present time-bound reality with the presence of Jesus for us. Where Jesus is, there is life and a new creation. Our hope is in a future restoration, but as we pick up the song of the angels, by faith, we take hold of the fact that it’s already in the bag.
Arthur Just (two-time Valpo dad) in his book Heaven on Earth puts it this way.
We now have the same status in the kingdom of God as both the prophets of old and the saints in glory. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and, with Christians everywhere, we rejoice in their presence. They are standing with us and joining their voices with ours in one glorious liturgy.**
For this cloud of witnesses, the ultimate victory is already realized. For us who gather in their company, it’s in the bag.
Much of life is uncertain and some days feel less certain than others. When you’re going through one of those days when you begin to wonder if anything at all is going to work out the way you think it’s supposed to, I encourage you to look forward to the next opportunity that you have here at the Chapel or in all kinds of Christian churches around our campus to take a place at the table with that cloud of witnesses who can help us remember and rejoice in the fact that come what may, our life’s goal is in the bag.
Sept. 4, 2019
*The Mass of Saints and Angels, Steven R. Janco, composer.
**Heaven on Earth, Arthur Just, p. 20