The Olympics – that is the Summer Olympics of the 31 Olympiad – are underway. Rio 2016 promises to be a big event and I hope it goes smoothly. The sporting events will be held mainly in Rio de Janeiro, a dynamic and diverse city. One of the icons of the city – and I admit that I’m surprised to see it in the photos and footage so far – is the large statue Cristo Reden-tor (Christ the Redeemer) on Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city. Statue and pedestal are 124 feet tall so it isn’t super tall as the Statue of Liberty but it is still nonetheless impressive and it is listed as one – the youngest one – of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
It is not hard to understand the appeal of the statue. Jesus’ open arms welcome you. He is reaching out to help and care. When Pastor Claudio Flor wrote about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brazil (The British Lutheran August 2014) he included some photos of the statue and of the crowds. One photo shows people bus-tling with cameras, taking photos and even imitating Jesus’ outstretched arms in a crowded chaotic , almost carnivalesque, atmosphere. I can imagine that there are other times of more quiet reflection at the statue but this particular photo is busy with life.
It’s not hard to imagine the comfort and help a welcoming Christ is for people. For anyone (maybe particularly athletes) who need help, the statue offers hope. Of course, we all need help at various times. The statue isn’t magic but mnemonic – helping us to remember who Jesus is and what he has done. His outstretched arms – that welcome – produces an invisible cross for those with eyes to see or remember. That cross shape also reminds us that we usu-ally don’t see our situation straight – don’t understand the terrain we’re in – the race we’re run-ning – for our biggest enemy is sin. That is why Jesus came – to forgive. However Jesus helps us – he has come to forgive us – think of Jesus and the paralysed man let down through the roof in Mark 2.
The statue however also reinforces an unhelpful idea – almost a stereotype about Jesus – that he is ‘away’, ‘looking down’ and we have to go to him to be close to him. Not so at all! A big part of the reason Jesus is called upon – looked on as a comfort – seen as someone you might try and trust – someone who does help – is precisely because Jesus comes to us! Ok, we don’t see him like we see the statue but we can see, taste, touch, and hear words, water, bread and wine. Jesus comes to us in our need, in our grime and tears, in our sweat and blood, in our efforts and failures, even in our giving up – he never tires of coming to us. (It is people who move away from him.)
I hope the images of Rio 2016 include many moments of Cristo Redentor. I hope for a safe and successful games. But most of all, I hope that more and more people will discover that this Redeemer is real and it was his blood, sweat and tears (not silver or gold) that gives us life – one in which the prize of eternal life is already ours. That means we can get on with living to-day knowing that … Jesus helps! — GS