Like Billions of people around the world I sat watching the Olympic Opening ceremony loving the spectacle, the vision and the ambition of its director Danny Boyle. I loved the celebration of the NHS definitely one of the UK’s finest inventions – a medical system that seeks to give free health care to all in need. I enjoyed the celebration of the industrial revolution and the visibility of the cost that our natural world paid in order to bring it.
As I watched I pondered to what extent Britain’s Christian heritage would play a part. There was even a little twitter debate about the degree to which Danny Boyle was alluding to God.
The prominent inclusion of the hymns Jerusalem and Abide with me can be interpreted as a clear acknowledgement of Christianity’s influence in our nation. I rejoiced to see that hymns were a key part of the celebrations. I was nervous they were just background music – as the images on the stage did not seem to connect with the words. But then these notes from the Opening programme were made available:
But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring notion that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.
(original image of programme available here)
This made me look again at the lyrics to Jerusalem, which were a patriotic poem written by Williman Blake in 1804. I have never been a fan of this song – as the answer to all the questions is of course literally “No.”
And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land
But to see Jerusalem as an organising principle for the ceremony… thus the golden thread. Jesus walking in England – not as a historical event ofcourse – but as a metaphor. (Jesus lived and died in Israel and made no such journey overseas). Amidst the destruction and dehumanisation of the industrial revolution with its “satanic mills.” Could there be a taste of the heavenly Jerusalem the Bible talks about in revelation 21 – when God renews the whole creation.
That is the task of the church – to be christ’s body on the earth. To let the feet of Jesus walk on England’s soil and give people a taste of what only God can fulfill – equality, justice, peace and hope.
Danny Boyle’s vision may be a humanistic version of this – we can build Jerusalem not with God’s help but through our own hard work, creativity. A welfare state for everyone, a musical library for everyone Elgar to the Arctic Monkeys, Royal Philarmonic Orchestra to Mr Bean. A Queen who’s up for a joke… But on the other hand he may have grasped something important about art, culture, welfare, politics and sport. That all of these human endeavours if humbly offered to God can be a way we can worship him – a way in which we can give people a taste of the future . Like a movie trailer for what is to come – when Jesus the one who lived, died and rose again to make a way for us and our world to be redeemed, rescues and reconciled to God is finally seen for all he’s worth.
What do you think?
PS original photo from Flickr