Proper 10 Year B: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
(Let us pray) Lord of the dance, move in us. Let us hear your voice calling to us . . . Amen.
This is my first chance to speak to you as a preacher and your new priest-in-charge – and as an introduction I want to offer this invitation: SHALL WE DANCE?? I’m thinking in terms of a dance as a metaphor for how we live together . . . how we relate with each other . . . how we come to grow as a family, as a community in Christ’s love . . . So: SHALL WE DANCE? And how shall we dance?
Hang on to that invitation to the dance as we take a look at two of the scripture readings we just heard: the Old Testament reading from Samuel about David and the return of the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelite people – and the Gospel reading about the death, the beheading, of John the Baptist. What these two scripture passages have in common is dance – they both evolve around a dance. But what very different, contrasting dances they are!
On one hand, we have David giving glory to God in his dance, and on the other hand we have a young girl manipulating her father, King Herod, into the beheading of John the Baptist. And looking a little closer at the dances and the intention behind the dances, we get a deeper insight into the meaning, the message of each of these passages.
First to the reading about the death of John the Baptist: There are a couple of interesting twists in this story. First we learn that Jesus is getting a lot of political attention with his public ministry – his casting out demons and curing people who are sick. So people are asking who Jesus is. Is he John the Baptist — raised from the dead – – or is he the prophet Elijah (who, by the way, didn’t actually die; he was just swept away to heaven without ever dying.)
King Herod believes Jesus really is John the Baptist: Why? Because of Herod’s own guilt and insecurity and paranoia. You see, it was Herod who had ordered John’s murder even though his intuition – his inner voice, his voice of conscience – told him it was absolutely the wrong thing to do. Herod knew that Jesus was a righteous and holy man, a man speaking God’s truth. The was that his wife, Herodias, didn’t share this holy enlightenment – she deeply resented John’s criticism of their marriage and was poised for revenge.
Then came the night of the birthday party. The young daughter captivated the crowd with her dancing – a dance that may have been sexually seductive in nature. As her reward, Herod promised her anything she wanted. After consulting her mother, she asked straight away for John’s head – on a platter. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear this reading, this is the picture that seems to stick in my mind – the image of the severed head of John the Baptist offered up on a plate. Gross and ugly and perverse as it is, this image is a reminder of how ugly, perverted sensationalism captures the attention of our contemporary society as well – how sensationalism sells. Grotesque pictures and news reports fill our news media – TV, internet, radio. – – And the tabloids in grocery store checkout lines seem to test the limits of what is ethically and socially acceptable. But this all does serve a popular desire to see behind the facade of public life.
Likewise the story of the beheading of John the Baptist gives us an insight into the spiritual and ethical makeup of King Herod. He is a man deeply troubled. Internally he is severely divided, broken – a man spiritually divided against himself. His knowledge of right and wrong stands opposed to his pride, his overwhelming need to save face in the company of his friends by not going back on a promise he has proudly made in front of them. He can’t say no to his daughter’s request, and therefore he can’t be true to his conscience.
So the real tragedy in this story is not the death of John the Baptist. John died with his truth and his integrity intact. John’s life was lived with purpose, God’s purpose. John’s life was lived honorably to God’s glory. The real tragedy of the story is Herod and his compromised character, his ethical failure and his spiritual failure when he succumbs to the seduction of a young girl’s dance – a dance of manipulation and vengeance – a dance of calculated retaliation.
Now let’s turn to the Old Testment reading – the story about David dancing before the Lord with all his might. What’s happening here? Many years earlier the Ark of the Covenant had been captured by Israel’s enemies. Remember that the Ark was a huge symbol for the people of Israel – it was the tangible evidence that God was actually with them. For them it was God’s Real Presence. After about thirty years, the political situation evolved and David replaced Saul as Israel’s king. With David’s newfound political power he decided to bring the Ark back to his capital city of Jerusalem. His intention was to establish Jerusalem as the religious center where God would be ultimately honored and worshiped.
A triumphant parade accompanies the Ark of the Covenant as it is returned to the Israeli people. There was singing and shouting and dancing – with David himself dancing wildly in the procession – just in front of the Ark. The intention of this dance is praise and worship – a holy and righteous dance before God – free and ecstatic dancing – a dance of humility and abandon – a dance of total involvement and self-giving. We learn, however, that David’s wife Michal is standing on the sidelines watching David’s frivolous dance and she’s not happy.
Could it be that she is overly concerned about David’s appearance in polite society, her husband totally and unabashedly on display for everyone to see, her husband risking foolishness for the worship and glory of God?
Paul writes in his letter to the church in Corinth: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”
So can we dare not to risk playing the fool somehow – dare not to risk the foolishness of dancing wildly with David in order to worship God more truly ?
From David’s example, we can see that dance often arises spontaneously when we freely and joyfully worship God. Dancing is also how we relate to each other in worship. And how we worship is how we re-enter the world of everyday life. How we worship forms our day to day relationship with God and our relationships with each other.
The sense of dance shapes our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. When we worship and praise God in the Eucharist we enter into the dance of the Holy Trinity. The theological name of this three-way dance of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is perichoresis, the Greek word meaning to dance around in a circle. This heavenly dance of Love is freely given, totally self-emptying – and we are all invited to join in.
Are you wondering if we really dance the Eucharist here at St. Nathaniel’s? For the answer to that question keep your eye on Deacon Margaret and Father Vince in a few minutes – when we come to the Great Amen – right before the Lord’s Prayer . . .
When was the last time you danced, just let go of everything and danced with joy and abandonment – either dancing with your feet or dancing in your mind and heart and imagination? When was the last time you danced as the fool for God?
There will be a couple of special occasions for dancing and worship coming up here in this parish in the next few weeks – that’s in addition to our regular weekly celebrations. The feast of St. Nathaniel, our patron saint, is coming up in August. And on August 26, a Sunday, in the afternoon, our bishop will be joining us for the sacrament of an Ordination to the Priesthood.
And so I repeat my earlier invitation to you all: SHALL WE DANCE?