I watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony last night and was moved in many ways, but the part I found most moving and resonant was the lighting of the cauldron. There has been a tradition of the person lighting the cauldron receiving the highest honour, and it is given to an individual whose achievement is above and beyond any other. The British media and blogosphere has been speculating about who will receive this honour, with some cynicism. The underlying feeling has been that it will go to someone who doesn’t quite deserve it but who has managed to somehow wangle it because of privilege and position, and I must admit to sharing some of that cynicism.
How wrong I was! The flame was brought into the stadium by someone who is indisputably our great Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave. But then a miracle occurred. He handed it to a group of young, unknown athletes. The commentator Huw Edwards described it as “the transfer of the privilege and honour of lighting the flame.” It was handed to seven unknowns, young people who are just starting out, as yet untried and unproven, but full of potential. It was handed on by an older generation who recognised their potential and saluted and supported them in that. The rest of us watched and cheered them on. Huw went on to observe “Seven Great British Olympic heroes offering that honour to these young athletes”. In other words it was freely given in recognition of hope in the future, offering, but not imposing on them, a vision of all that’s best in our life together.
It’s notable that it was given not to one, but to a team, as part of a ceremony that valued the contribution of not just the great and the physically able, but included the deaf, the old, the builders and plumbers, the Queen, children, nurses. It was a ceremony that showed our pride in who we are and our hope for the future, served up with a dose of affection and humour.
It struck me forcibly that this is what the church could, and should be, in particular, and most importantly, the way in which we hand on the flame of faith to the next generation. Let’s not wait until they have to tear it out of our cold, dead hands, by which time they have grown bitter and tired of waiting. Let’s put our faith in them and the future and hand it on while they are still full of vision and energy, passion and life. Let’s not keep the power and privilege to ourselves but lay it down in the hope that something new and vibrant will grow.
I could go on about the changes that have occurred between how the Olympics was in 1948 and how it is now; training methods, the style of the opening ceremony, the nations taking part, the addition of technology. Of course the 2012 Games don’t look like the 1948 games, but it’s still the Olympic Games and no amount of politicking or abuse of its values seems to damage what it is.
Paul said, in his letter to the Philippians: “…one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” And maybe this should offer a vision for us not just as individuals but as a whole people of God.