The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games have become events themselves, bookends to the highly anticipated competitions they bracket. Given the estimated billion people who watched both the Beijing and London opening ceremonies, the pre- and post- event spectacles arguably attract larger followings than the competitions themselves.
During these non-competitive portions of the games, we experience national pride in our “home team” combined with the collective joy that accompanies a veritable international carnival, along with the aura of seemingly indestructible confidence radiating from human bodies at their physical peak. As delivered through our televisions, everyone gathered in the stadium appears to be friends, and once again we’re reminded of the humanistic spirit behind the modern Olympics — the creation of the “why can’t we all just get along?” vibe that arrives the moment the first team enters the venue.
Is This the True Peace?
The five interlocking rings which brand each Olympic gathering contain symbolism toward this noble goal of world peace, “represent[ing] the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic games.” For athletes from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceana, the two-week window of competition attempts to temporarily transcend the social and political realities facing them at home, offering a “union” that illustrates the humanistic hope of a life lived in peace under the global sun.
Occasionally, however, even amid heavily armed security — its presence alone an ironic counter to the pretense of a manufactured global peace — social and political turmoil still force their way into the Olympic narrative. Recalling as examples the tragedies of the 1972 Israeli murders in Munich, the 1996 park bombing in Atlanta, and the mutual boycotting of the games by the United States and the USSR in 1980 and 1984, we are reminded that the message of peace created by sporting events and choreographed harmony is a constantly frustrated mirage, a hope that cannot be satisfied in this life.
The Day Is Coming
Nevertheless, the ceremonies offer a beautiful, yet distorted, shadow of another envisioned spectacle, where the nations gather together once again and the hope of peace is finally and fully realized. The writer of Revelation describes a reoccurring futuristic scene, saying,
I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb [who is Jesus]. . . . And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” . . . . They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:9–12)
It’s the opening and closing ceremonies all rolled into one knee-buckling moment, and the central character of this scene changes from the people themselves to Jesus — He becomes the substance of their experience. Peace isn’t brought about by people trying to get along under their national banners, intoxicated by the spirit of the Games. Rather, true peace, in its final and deepest form, is established by the person and work of Christ himself, both in his forgiving of our sins and his final dominion over the universe.
Here, rather than celebrating themselves, the nations gather to worship Jesus, and the peace experienced revolves around his greatness, his long-suffering love toward his people, his sovereign rule over the universe, and his final justice-inspired defeat over evil and the nations which stand against him. He is the lone victor who wears the crown, the conqueror standing on his cosmic podium whose worshipers create the anthem that celebrates his victory.
These Games have provided another opportunity for the world to celebrate the innate humanistic impulse for peace, while watching mini-battles that culminated in medals and anthems, individual glory and national pride. But they also inadvertently foreshadow a day when people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” will gather together to celebrate the One who ultimately provides the very peace they seek, a hope partially realized in real time in the person of Jesus Christ.