Just about 80 years ago, a crowd gathered on a humid August day to commence what was to be an unparalleled event for its time. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, police officers, and soldiers gathered for an event so spectacular, so colossal, it almost seemed to come out of a fairy tale rather than real life. Some six continents and 49 countries were represented, with most guests, especially the athletes wearing clothing with their own home flag represented, either on their person, or as they waved their flag for the crowd to see.
But the most obvious flag, the most conspicuous flag that day, was by far, the Swastika. It was draped anywhere and everywhere there was room. For this was the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. And while most of the athletes were present, the main attraction that day was not the athletes who would compete for medals, but the one who would preside over them, Adolf Hitler.
At 3:18 p.m., according to the author Daniel James Brown, “Adolf Hitler left the chancellery in central Berlin, standing upright in his Mercedes limousine, his right arm lifted in the Nazi salute. Tens of thousands of Hitler Youth, storm troopers, and helmeted military guards lined his route from the Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten and out to the Reichssportfeld. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary German citizens had massed along the way, leaning from windows and waving flags or standing twelve or more deep along the street, again using periscopes to get a glimpse of Hitler.
Now, as his limousine passed, they extended their right arms in the Nazi salute, their faces upturned, ecstatic, screaming in pulsing waves as he rode by, “Heil! Heil! Heil!” At the Maifeld, where the U.S. Olympic team members stood, the athletes began to hear the distant sound of crowds cheering, the noise slowly swelling and growing nearer, then loudspeakers blaring, “He is coming! He is coming”. “He is coming! He is Coming!” Chilling words aren’t they?
And I would argue not just because we know what leadership under Hitler would bring to the modern world, but also, the messianic overtones that we hear in the shouts of Hail! And He is coming. I could not help but compare this scene to the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday…the day Jesus entered into the Holy City, not standing on a Mercedes, or even the ancient world’s equivalent, the chariot, but rather he came on a donkey.
Stuart Strachan Jr. Sermon: “Witnessing to the Light”, June 2015. Source Material from Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Penguin Books, 2014.
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