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Dance then wherever you may be
Today is Passion Sunday, when perhaps we might be thinking ahead to Good Friday and Our Lord’s crucifixion. But when you look at the bible readings for today they have a different focus. The gospel tells the story of the raising of Lazarus, the Old Testament reading is about God breathing life into the valley of dry bones, while in the passage from Romans Paul writes about the new life we enjoy through the miracle of the Resurrection. So the passion we are invited to reflect upon today is not so much Christ’s suffering, as the abundant, vital, passionate new life which is the gift to us of His Cross and Resurrection. The readings contrast what is old, stale and dead within us, with the new, joyful freedoms of the Easter people. So on Passion Sunday we can prepare for Easter by trying to understand what the Resurrection really means in our daily lives.
The problem for us is to find the right words, the right imagery. The Resurrection is very puzzling, inexplicable, even frightening – no less for us than for the first disciples. Even St. Paul, who had had a life-changing encounter with the Risen Christ, struggled with how to express the Christian experience of the Resurrection. This is what he says in today’s epistle: ‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he……will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit…’
Do you get it? I’m not sure I do, entirely. For Paul the mystery of the resurrection life is that of Christ living in us, and we in him. But how should we picture this? I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me. That’s what the Easter hymn says – I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me: I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.’ It may not be in the Bible, but there is a tradition, a striking picture, of the Resurrection life as a Dance led by the Risen Christ. There is for instance that lovely carol that our choir sings: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; I would my true love did so chance To see the legend of my play To call my true love to my dance. Sing O, my love, my love, my love- this have I done for my true love. Our Archbishop Rowan Williams once gave a very moving sermon with ‘My Dancing Day’ as its title, and I confess that I have unashamedly taken one or two of his ideas to share with you this morning.
I am totally useless as a dancer – check that out with Linda! I am awkward, ungainly, and have two left feet and no sense of rhythm. But perhaps because of this I love watching dance – not just the ‘Strictly’ kind, but classical and modern ballet – anything. I find that through the dance - in the grace and vitality of movement, the interpretation of music within a physical space, the expression of otherwise inexpressible ideas and feelings and emotions - I am captivated and lifted into another world.
And so Jesus calls us to follow him in the Dance, to mirror his gestures as his hands slowly open to bless, his arms gently circle to enfold the world, as his body sinks to raise the fallen. And then he takes us by the hand and we are on the floor, his grace becoming our grace – ‘love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be.’ And now we are moving, without seeming to try, to the rhythm and the melody of God’s love.
And from time to time the pattern of the dance changes so that we are on our own improvising, or dancing with others in twos and threes and groups – but always in and out of the Dance is the Christ, its Life and Soul, speaking wordlessly to us ‘Here are the signs of my life, the patterns I make, the beauty I create, and so can you.’
Is this fantasy? I hope not. The danger is not that we will lose a sense of reality, but that we will hold back- too timid, too buttoned up, too conscious of our ungainliness to risk all and give all, and join the Dance of Christ’s love. And if we do venture on to the floor there is always the risk that we will try to do it all our way – and so wreck the rhythm and the choreography. But if we will only follow the movements of our Lord, the Lord of the Dance, we will indeed become one with his new, risen life.
I believe that at the Heavenly Banquet there will be dancing, lots of dancing. I only hope that before I die, useless though I am, I may yet learn a step or two so that I can join in. Perhaps we could all of us make a start during Holy Week this year, as we move from the Passion of the Cross towards the passion of the dance, the dance of Christ’s Resurrection life among us.
‘They cut me down and I leap up high; I am the life that’ll never, never die. I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me: I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.’