We’re in the English Lake District, and we happen to be here at the time the Olympic Torch comes through on its long journey around the United Kingdom en route to the stadium in London for the Olympic opening ceremony on July 27th. 8,000 people will get to carry the flame for a leg of the journey as a convoy meanders its way up and down Britain with a journey across to Ireland. Some of them are sporting or national and local celebrities. Others are members of local communities who have been nominated for their community service. The oldest runner is 100 and the youngest 10.
So we went to Whitehaven, a small fishing port on the western coast of England, below the shadows of the Lakeland mountains. In typical cloudy damp weather we stood close to the harbor and waited as the drizzle came down, for the torch to appear. Crowds had lined the streets waving Union flags and red, white and blue plastic replicas of the torch. Our stay in the UK has rapidly revealed a season of great patriotism with the Queen’s jubilee, the Euro soccer championships and the Olympics all happening within a period of a couple of months.
The torch procession came by with police motorcycle outriders, and advertizing trucks representing Samsung, Lloyds TSB and Coca Cola, the three sponsors of the torch run. Then came the bus carrying the stage runners, followed by the torch itself, carried in this case by a middle-aged lady of local renown. Because we were on the harbor wall, the vehicles all by-passed us, and only the runner came our way. In a moment the experience was over, but at least we got some video and photos.
But the experience was actually not over. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the evening’s speaker at our hotel was a local community volunteer who had run with the flame the previous day. The topic for his talk concerned the Victorian origins of Grange-over-Sands, the town where we were staying, but he had brought his torch with him. We each got to hold and run with the torch, and the photos attest to the pride we felt in holding this symbol of a universally understood event.
Few things other than the Olympics inspire such worldwide interest. Every four years, the world’s best gather to compete. Britain has done particularly well over the last few Olympics, improving vastly over the single gold among fourteen medals won in Atlanta in 1996. This year they are expected to do even better than the total of forty-seven won in Beijing.
At the opening ceremony each team gathers behind its national flag. We get a beautiful picture of the nations of the world coming together to celebrate. On occasions, even nations at war with one another can set aside their differences to appear together. But for those of us who long for the Revelation 7:9 vision of peoples from every tribe and tongue gathered together to worship before the throne of the lamb, the image should only inspire our prayers toward that day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord.
For a day we got to follow the Olympic flame. May we however all pursue, for all our days, He who is the light of the world, who enflames our hearts with life and love.