I’m a sucker for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I almost always find a way to watch them live, no matter if I am in the U.S. or overseas, and no matter the difference in time zones. The ceremonies will be different this year for sure, during a pandemic and inside a near-empty stadium, but I’ll still be watching.
I can’t help myself. There is something so moving about the whole world tuning in to this bright festival of the nations, right on the cusp of a global competition between the very best athletes of those nations representing their countries with patriotic pride.
First comes the “artistic program,” which welcomes the Olympics with a cultural flourish of the host country. I remember watching the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, which for me was at 2 a.m. local time in Indonesia (and which I paid for the next day). But it was worth every yawn that following day.
The whole jaw-dropping spectacle was called “Isles of Wonder” and was directed by the Academy Award-winning British director Danny Boyle (who also directed Slumdog Millionaire). A total of 60,000 people were in attendance, including Queen Elizabeth II who opened the ceremony. Eighty heads of state. A performance by Paul McCartney. Dancing. Lights. Shakespeare. History. Celebration. You get the grand picture.
And I remember the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Mercifully this one was broadcast during my normal waking hours, but the cultural wonder of that program would have definitely been worth a poor night’s sleep. Five kids dressed in parkas and wearing colors of the five Olympic rings walked in on top of a circular video disk with a Korean mythological white creature, making it look like they were exploring in the snow. What happened next would be nearly impossible to describe (click here to watch on YouTube). The bland title of “artistic program” does no justice for this cultural panoramic feast.
No amount of time or expense is spared to put on these showcases. The performers of the PyeongChang opening ceremony had practiced since October of the previous year to put on their cultural showcase—over half a year! For the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, an estimated $100 million dollars was spent on that one evening! Stadiums are built years ahead of time just to get ready. The whole world is watching and the whole world is rarely disappointed. Even in a global pandemic this year, I imagine what Tokyo comes up with make the whole world go, “Whoa!”
Next comes the “parade of nations.” I love watching the athletes stream into the stadium, carrying their flags to represent their beloved nations while the gigantic crowds greet and cheer for them. Greece gets to go first, as they birthed the Olympics, and the rest of the nations enter in alphabetic order using the Greek alphabet. I like to imagine the hundreds of thousands of people gathered around their TV sets in the athletes’ home countries to cheer them on as well. It takes a long time to watch all those athletes stream into the stadium, but it’s still so moving to watch.
After more greetings and speeches, it’s time for the entrance of the Olympic Torch, which has been traveling from Athens, Greece by special selected runners all these months. The crowd erupts in celebration as the final runner enters the stadium holding the golden torch and makes his or her way to a gigantic Olympic cauldron where the flame is finally lit. The Olympics have officially begun.
There is nothing else like the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Can you think of anything else that brings our planet together in such a colorful, cultural celebration? These epic ceremonies give us goosebumps, I believe, because they point us toward eternity. Here’s a window into heaven from the book of Revelation:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it…The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.– Revelation 21:24,26
The kings of the earth marching in with their colorful, multi-national splendor. The glory and honor of all the nations, long parades of praise with every tribe, tongue and nation represented! All around are festive flags, traditional dances, lively symphonies and deeply rich cultural songs, a multi-national feast of the senses. (I personally can’t wait to see the delegations from Southeast Asia come to the party.)
In his book, Life Without Lack, Dallas Willard uses the palette of Hebrews Chapter 11 to paint a welcoming picture of heaven. This passage contrasts the fearful Old Covenant experience Moses and the Israelites had at Mount Sinai with the joyful New Covenant welcome of Christ at Mount Zion. Willard wrote:
That is the reality of heaven! It is where we stand, with God at the center, surrounded by all his perfect and perfected beings, those who have come to God through Jesus, the Lamb of God whose blood does not call out for judgment and condemnation, but for mercy, forgiveness, and the fullness of the grace of God! Indeed, it calls for a “festal gathering” (Heb. 12:22)—a grand, eternal, joyous party of praise to the God who makes it all possible!– Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2018)
Sounds fun to me! It will be more like an exciting global party than our stale stereotypes of heaven. That “grand, joyous party of praise to God” is worth getting amped up for now. King Jesus at the center of it all.
Festal gathering, here we come...