Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10

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July 12, 2009

What does our culture, our society, tell us about dancing? Does it celebrate it? Does it embrace and expand upon it, helping it to infuse our movements through the world? Does it teach us to inhabit the expressive potential of our bodies, coordinated and rhythmic?

Or does it narrow it, relegate it to the back room, the bar room, the stage, and the empty house, unobserved and detached?

The Killers, a popular contemporary band, pose a question in their song “Human.” They wrote the song after hearing a disparaging comment that America was “raising a generation of dancers.” The chorus of the song goes:

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold,
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer.
Are we human or are we dancer?

Is it antithetical to our human nature to dance? Surely not. As with many art forms, we convince ourselves that if our potential is not immediately apparent, we hold no stake. “Oh, I’m not a musician.” “No, I’m not an artist.” “I can’t dance.”

But as children, we all dance, we all embody the sounds of the world in a very physical way. Some of us rock spastically in our high chairs while others sway gracefully. Some of us shake our little fists energetically, or beat the ground like a drum, while others jump on any accessible piece of furniture. We are indeed made dancer.

But our hands go cold. We live in a culture where to be human is not necessarily to be dancer, where we are taught to judge the type of dancer we become. Does that mean the music ceases to pulse around us, within us, and through us? No, but it is no longer released to the world through movement and gesture. The music ends abruptly and alone, inside our ears and our heads.

In today’s readings we hear two stories of dancing. The tales are of two dancers in two very different times, dancing two very different dances.

In our reading from the Second Book of Samuel, David has brought to his city the Ark of the Covenant, the experience of God’s relationship to humanity made manifest in metal, textile, and stone. And as he enters the city, as the party of Israel takes up God and welcomes God into their midst, David and all the house of Israel dance “before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.”
They dance! And not a little side-to-side rock, sway, and clap, but “with all their might” they dance! And David, clad in a linen ephod, a ceremonial garment of prayer and worship, presents the gift of his joy, made manifest in his dancing to the Lord.

In this moment, David’s body, the chosen, imperfect, and fully human body of the King of Israel, becomes a gift to the Lord, an expression of the joyful relationship and covenant between God and God’s people. But it doesn’t stop there.

The incarnate celebration continues through a shared meal, as David blesses the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributes food among all the people. That’s right, he feeds them – “the whole multitude,” both men and women – with bread and meat and a cake of raisins! The dance becomes a banquet, a royal meal, of joy, of life, of abundance and community.

In our gospel reading today there is another dance. This second dance takes on a different character. Salome dances to entertain. It is the ruler’s birthday celebration. And all the leaders of Galilee gather to be amused, while John the Baptist sits locked in a cell because he called Herod to emerge from his sinfulness. Salome is apparently a talented dancer. We can imagine her graceful and perhaps provocative movements enrapturing and exciting a room full of powerful men. Her self-expression drives them to distraction and foolishness – a dance worth half a kingdom. This dance too ends in a banquet of sorts: a head served on a silver platter, a banquet of enslavement to desire, hubris, pride, arrogance, and revenge.

The contrast is striking: David’s dance of life, the banquet of heaven, and Salome’s dance and banquet of death.

We gather today to dance. Foolishly, unapologetically, and beautifully we dance. We dance up the aisle in our flow-y white gowns. We sing to each other ballads of our common history, punctuated by gestures of stillness, of standing, kneeling, and sitting, of clasping the hands of another. Our bodies, our voices, and our movements become vehicles for expressing our relationship with the divine. And coming forward to the table, we present those gifts, gifts of ourselves, to God and to one another – a feast, a banquet set open to all who would come.

Today, in Anaheim, California, a tremendous dance is also taking place, a dance involving thousands of Episcopalians, as leaders of our church converge on Disneyland for the triennial gathering known as General Convention.

The dance they do together is one of the most awe-inspiring things we do as a church. It has the potential to be a moment of incredible beauty and synergy, the dance of many ministries, many ways of living Christ’s calling. It has the potential to be the dance of many varied ways of being human as Jesus taught us, moving to the music of the spirit’s common call, offered on a common table for our mutual edification and sustenance. And from that dance there is the potential for the transformation of the world. Ten thousand Episcopalians, standing together, in community can feed the world with their hope, their courage, and their love for one another. The dance can become a holy banquet.

But the beauty and the challenge of these readings, paired as they are, is that they point to the fact that the dance, and the banquet that flows out of it, can be an instrument both of life and death, with potential both to sanctify and desecrate.

How are we as individuals transformed by our dance, transformed by our liturgy? By our gathering? By our faith? How are we, like David, expressing what we know of God, what we have seen of God, and God’s relationship to us, in this moment of dancing – both here today, and at the convention in Anaheim?

What we do often looks like a ridiculous dance in the eyes of the world, amidst so much modern complexity. And it is. But by the grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the ardent pursuit of the example of Jesus Christ, it is a dance that can transform the world.

But it can only feed the world when it is for us truly a dance of life, a dance of offering. Like David, our dance must be done with all our might. It must be a dance that acknowledges the unique, limited, often uncoordinated way in which each of us tries to embody and express anew the music and breath of the spirit moving in us. It must acknowledge that the dance we do is an expression of our humanity, and it must be a dance that “with all its might” seeks to draw together instead of dividing, to empower instead of belittling, to interpret rather than dictate. It must be a dance that is shared by all in the human family.

Jesus calls us together at the table, speaking to us in the ways in which our own bodies are offered up one to another at this table, the ways in which our dances merely point to God, gesture toward God. He speaks to us in this dance of life; not performance, but community; not selfish, but sacrificial; not shortsighted, but eternal. It is this dance we celebrate today, this dance of life.

Let us dance as ourselves, as humans, as dancers, as community. Let us dance together!

Thanks be to God.