Like most of you (I’m guessing), I’m a huge fan of the Olympics. I’m a total sucker for hour after hour of swimming, diving, gymnastics, handball, whatever, and have spent the last few days stuck to the couch alongside my wife and kids. Unlike most of you (I’m guessing), I’m also a huge fan of opening ceremonies (at least since Beijing). Maybe it’s my inner chick (is it wrong that two of my fave flicks are Pride and Prejudice and Moulin Rouge?), but there’s something that moves me about any attempt to capture a nation’s history, culture and aesthetic sensibility in one 3-hour spectacle. Unless, of course, it includes chrome-plated pick-ups.
London 2012 was no exception. Although not without its awkward moments (I didn’t quite get the whole rave/love story, and I’m an electronic music lover), it managed to powerfully evoke GB’s 3 greatest contributions to the world: literature, industry and pop music, not necessarily in that order.
Oh, and one more thing: Christianity(!). Color me impressed by the opening hymn “Jerusalem” (perhaps a bit nationalistic, but still), tickled by Mr. Bean and Chariots of Fire (ironically, the story of a man who refused to compete in the Olympics on account of his Christian faith), warmed by the evocations of Tolkien and Lewis, and blown away by the children singing “Bread of Heaven”:
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty; Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, Feed me till I want no more…
I mean, are you kidding me?! ”I am weak, but Thou art mighty” on international television?! Praise. The. Lord.
All of which is why I was dismayed to hear that I’d been deprived of the proverbial coin in the pudding. It seems that NBC, in its infinite wisdom, decided to cut a deeply moving tribute to the victims of 7/7 and air, in its place, an offensively vapid Ryan Seacrest interview of Michael Phelps. Consider this a new low in America’s obsessive death-denial. When I finally watched the missing clip, I was even more disappointed, as it is, quite possibly, the most explicitly, authentically Christian television moment since “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.”
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and take 5 minutes.
“Abide With Me” is my all-time favorite hymn. I know it by heart, and as the verses rolled by, I kept on waiting for director Danny Boyle to flinch, to cut or alter its profoundly grace-centered words. And yet he never did. Straight through to final verse, “Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,” Boyle stayed on-message, proclaiming to all the world that, in the midst of life’s senseless suffering, we can do no better than to fix our eyes upon the one and only true Source of hope.
In case you don’t know the hymn, written by the Anglican priest Henry Lyte as he was dying of tuberculosis, here are the heart-wrenching lyrics:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Thank God that the rest of the world was witness to this glorious moment. Too bad we weren’t.
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