The three-year cycle of the calendar of the church brings us to today’s Gospel describing the beheading of John the Baptist, which some do not read, but we do. We read it because it is a scene that is happening up to this day as people continue to be beheaded by King Herod-like political and religious opponents:
February’s beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, and June when a recent immigrant to France beheaded his boss who hired him to work in a chemical plant…adding to last year’s list of beheadings, some of Christians, others of Muslims, that appear as front page and webpage news, which, as told in the Gospel story, began at a birthday party for King Herod where his daughter entertained him with a dance.
Her exotic, erotic movements so captivated her father, that he added an offer to everyone’s applause, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.”
Her wish? The beheading of John the Baptist!
Salome’s dance, energized by hate and a quest for revenge, acted out on the stage of a palace filled with corruption;
Salome’s dance with manipulative movements set to her mother’s scheme and her father’s ruthless need to hold on to power;
Salome’s dance, applauded by the crowd cheering and fearing rules imposed on them by King Herod.
(Adapted from Steve Garnaas-Holmes Unfolding Light www.unfoldinglight.net)The Gospel story’s dance!
In today’s Old Testament reading it is a shepherd-boy ascended to be Israel’s king who danced before the Lord with all his might as the ark holding the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, God’s rules for living, were housed with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
King David’s dance, energized by joy and jubilation;
King David’s dance that raised the ire of his wife as: Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
King David’s dance, scorned by Michal for not meeting the dress code for royalty, but rather in only a loincloth, appearing like the degrading, humiliating almost naked body of a slave, the person David saw himself to be before his God.
David’s dance, a scandalous thought to Michal; and to David, but for him the scandal was that God is a God Who chose to meet him in worship, to surprise him with justice seasoned with mercy and deserved judgment overturned with pardoning love.
King David’s dance which he later set to songs for pilgrims and worshipers to sing as they processed up the hill to the temple, one being:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
do not lift up their souls to what is false, nor swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24, Psalm of the Day)
King David’s dance that invites us to approach God in worship, with heart and soul and lips tainted as Salome’s and her mother’s and father’s were, only to find God waiting, to clean and bless all who seek God.
King David’s dance, that continues to be set to David’s songs and thousands more that have been composed through the centuries;
King David’s dance taken up by choirs processing/dancing their way up the aisle, and, whether a processing choir or a congregation standing in place, (as we all are on these summer Sundays) everyone becomes the choir, singing with voice and soul and heart; everyone is drawn into the “dance” called worship.
Everyone is caught up in King David’s dance that has us being swept off our feet by a God Rev. Beth Birkholz of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Marietta, GA, described as:
“a God of mystery and delight and celebration, a God to be feared and worshipped, a God who showed us… rules and guidelines for our own good on this earth. ..A God who calls us to obey and calls us up from the dead, even death on a cross, and when in the presence of that mystery, calls us to dance.”
King David’s dance carried forward in Paul’s Letter read today: In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
The dance of the heart which holds a promise for those who are not gifted with dancing like my husband who moves as though he were dancing on air; while I move like a sack of potatoes.
The dance of the heart that is a relief for those who aren’t built to glide across a chancel and enhance worship with liturgical dance.
In a modern dance solo by Paul Taylor, the dancer/choreographer is reported to have "simply stood motionless on stage for four minutes."
Rev. Kate Huey a UCC pastor, who is an introvert when it comes to dancing believes “it's possible to feel a sense of God's presence and goodness and sacredness while sitting absolutely still. (and wonders if we need to) stop moving, trying, striving, running around from here to there,...(and asks if) we have we lost our sense of God in the inner stillness we might find in reflection, meditation, quiet? (She also thinks of her) mother, in the front pew every Sunday, with her walker. While the dancing David may provide a valid and valuable (and much-needed) corrective for less-than-vital worship services, so might the quiet nuns and monks and mystics who experience God in silence and stillness as well.”
In worship dancing need not be literal, but the dance of the heart; the dance steps Paul described as marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, King David’s dance that’s now the Gospel dance with Christ, who embraces us – whether light-of-foot or sacks of potato dancers, whether leaning on a walker or wheelchair-bound – and sweeps us up into dancing with heart and soul to the beat of His amazing love. Come, let us dance the dance of worship. AMEN.