Finally, after over 50 years, Cleveland has seen a championship! Finally, after a season and post-season filled with struggle, with missed shots, with sacrifice, with injuries, with determination, and with many broken records, the Cleveland Cavaliers have come out ever victorious. However, as we have seen, the championship has not been celebrated just by those on the team. This victory has been celebrated by an entire city, an entire state who has desired to show the entire world the excellence of the “The Land”, the 216, the CLE, the golden city off Lake Erie.
I will say that one of the most unique moments of my life was traveling to downtown Cleveland to watch Game 7 with several hundred thousand of my closest Ohioan friends. A fellow seminarian and I—we both live in Akron, the hometown of LeBron James—made it downtown CLE and into an absolutely packed sports bar just in time for the star spangled banner and the tipoff. Even from the very beginning, everything seemed to be coming together.
Watching the Cavaliers play the Warriors and put up a good fight was certainly something to behold, as the whole city pulsed with each dropped bucket and grabbed rebound. There was an energy that was tangible and an anticipation that could be seen in every fans eyes. However, experiencing the entire city explode with pure joy and elation, when the team pulled off the victory almost seemed like something out of a fairy tale. There were people everywhere! The downtown area had even been closed off in preparation for the end of the game. So many years of anticipation had finally come to an end. Finally, the victory had been won! It seemed like, in that moment, ultimate happiness had been achieved. Admittedly, watching replay videos of the end of the game, I still get emotional.
There was a palpable joy that could be felt in the moments after the game that was quite indescribable. Whether you cared for sports or not, whether you were at the watch party in “The Q” arena or out on the streets of the city, everyone rejoiced enthusiastically. It was a strange experience to scream in jubilation in the streets of Cleveland on a Sunday night, to high-five and hug random strangers passing by, to see people climbing on streetlights and rooftops, and to see so many people with unabashed smiles on their faces laughing in pure elation. In times where there has been so much negativity in our news as our country has experienced so much evil in the past months and years, this overwhelming joy and unity was undeniable
It was almost as if more than just a championship victory being celebrated in Cleveland on that night. Suddenly, people who would have most likely pass right by each other on the street without even a smile or a “hello”, now seemed to be unified, sharing a love and a joy that was very real. It didn’t matter if one was white or black, male or female, skinny or large, tall or short. In that moment, the victory of the Cavs and unity of joy transcended all else. As we know through our lived Christian experience, sin causes division and suffering, while love and joy unify.
In those moments after the game as I experienced the pure joy and unity of a city who celebrated a Cavs victory, I couldn’t help but think what Heaven will be like. Albeit, in light of eternity, it was just a basketball game. The Cavs victory wasn’t the most important thing that has ever happened. Even though it seemed like ultimate happiness had been achieved, winning a championship is nonetheless a joy that will eventually pass away. But I would say that the celebration after the final game was indeed a heavenly experience that points to what it is eternally joyful.
Sometimes in our modern culture Heaven can be made into something of a fairytale or a nice idea of where we want to go, just as some believed a championship victory in Cleveland was a fairytale story. Yet, as Christians, we know that Heaven is very real and we always try to live our lives in light of being in Heaven.
Heaven is real because every person, in their soul, has a yearning for what is eternal. Every person has a yearning for ultimate happiness and joy. Eternal union with God – Heaven – is that for which we were created and that which we should anticipate. Instead of just being some abstract idea, I think the downtown celebration of the Cavs victory was a sign, a mere glimpse, of what Heavenly glory will be like. Certainly the team and the fans wanted a win, but for Cleveland I think that desire went beyond the opportunity to hold a trophy. In some way, the desire for victory, but furthermore the anticipation and desire for the unity and joy of an entire city resembles what God has created us for – heavenly existence.
Finally living in union with the Creator, Heaven is living in pure love, in pure joy, and in pure unity. This this is the idea that went across my mind as I celebrated the victory with an entire city, unquestioningly giving high-fives and hugs to people whom I had never met before. In Heaven we will be in a loving union with everyone because all sin, all division, and all suffering will be cleansed away. In Heaven only love, joy, and unity will remain. Not only enjoying a Cavs victory, but finally enjoying the victory of Heaven is what we all should have in mind as we live out our earthly lives.