As spectacles go, the opening ceremony was at the top of the spectacular chart. James Bond! Tim Berners Lee typing on a NeXT cube! Dizzee Rascal! The entirety of Abide With Me! Mr Bean! JK Rowling reading from Peter Pan, The Shire! David Beckham on a speedboat! The actual real life Queen! Danny Boyle’s knighthood seems rightly assured.
One of the themes of the ceremony seemed to be; this is what Britain has blessed the world with. From industrialisation to the NHS to all the great literature to all the great music (not forgetting the hymns). It’s why the third act ended with Sir Tim Berners Lee, appearing slightly incongruously from underneath a house. Remember how we blessed you with the World Wide Web? says Great Britain. Danny Boyle talks about this in his programme notes:
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.
He’s using explicitly Christian imagery to proclaim this idea of a British heaven, and one of the ways heaven is seen is a place from where the nations are blessed (see particularly Revelation 21:24).
And this heavenly language carries on the beautiful, delightful world portrayed at the end is a world where all colours and backgrounds are united all joining in the celebration together in a thousand different styles and voices. A world where evil is chased away by good and where all tears over loss are turned into joy. Heck, there’s even sung hymns of worship. It’s the Christian hope of heaven altered and toned down for today. And consequentially, because it pilfers from a deep heart-felt hope, it’s a heart-stirring view of Britain, one that makes you say “yes, this is the country I want to be part of”. The people together, we can all make Britian into this great blessed country.
Of course, not everyone liked the ceremony. It baffled some Americans and angered one particular Tory MP, and obviously riled up the Daily Mail. That’s because the heaven it proclaimed to everyone was a very left-wing view of heaven. Hooray for multi-culturalism and the welfare state, these are the things a great country needs! The reason others are angry is not that they don’t like everyone having healthcare or people of different culture’s embracing as one, it’s because they don’t think Britain has got those things or has done them right. The Daily Mail seemed to put it as “why celebrate the NHS when it’s so terrible?” (an article which in fairness they’ve now pulled.) Their view of heaven won’t ultimately be that different, but how they get there will be. The more right-wing view is not about the people collectively making heaven, but probably more about individuals doing their bit to show how their country is best. The blessing upon others isn’t the good things we’ve given but the good rules we’ve set.
Of course, both views are fundamentally flawed, because people, individually or collectively can’t bring about a new Jerusalem. We saw this the day after we won the Olympics, when 56 people died in coordinated terror attacks on the streets and we’ll see this this week, when inevitably someone cheats, or when London gets sick of the whole spectacle and switches back to it’s default moaning. But the good news is that God is inevitably bringing about the New Jerusalem regardless of human failure. He’s going to clothe his people on earth in the fine dress they need to enter into the heavenly city and he’s going to bless the heavenly city with everything it needs, even His presence. His Son has secured a new creation, through dying and rising again, and His Son is the one who invites all who are frustrated, and weary, and full of sin to come and enter into his blessing.
1 It’s a very Labour message. The message proclaimed to us in action on Friday is the sermon Ed Milliband needs to preach for the next three years to guarantee election.