Still, We Must Dance

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, *

John 20:1-18

Thank God for bunnies and chocolate; for the squeals of glee when another Easter egg is found; for the toasted scent of hot cross buns and the intricate pattern of painted eggs. Thank God for an extra day of family fun and messy crafts, of sleeping in and feasting with family and friends. I delight in Easter as a time for children and the child within. You’re never too old to enjoy Easter. When new life is about to burst out all around us, it’s a time to laugh and dance with joy.

But thank God that there is more to Easter than this. It is as much a time for those bent over in grief or illness as it is for those in the fullness of life and love. It is still a time for dancing, but the steps and the music may not be quite as light.

Mary was bent over in grief. She was one of the few who dared to be identified with Jesus, and stay beside him in his humiliating, torturous death. Early on Sunday morning, in that pre-conscious transition between dreaming and awakening, the nightmare settled into the dread of reality. Mary rose before the sun and found her feet taking her to Jesus’ tomb. The nightmare was not over—the next few hours became of blur of terror and confusion. The stone had been rolled back; only the bloodied linens, which had wrapped Jesus’ body, were there. She ran to tell Peter and John, who raced to the tomb and then returned home in fear, wondering who had taken Jesus’ body and why. Mary remained, her grief and fear beginning to pour out in sobs. And then, through her veil of tears she made out human figures—two inside the tomb and one behind her. She begged of one of them, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.” “Mary,” came the tender response. She did not recognize him until he said her name. A child once said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”[1]

And so began Mary’s new dance of faltering steps towards Jesus and then back away from him, when he told her that she couldn’t cling to him, that she had to let him go; that he was no longer of the earth, but was on his way to heaven. Her dance took her back again to the other disciples. “I have seen the Lord!” But no one yet knew what this meant. As Jesus appeared later to them as well, in various places and forms, they all began to find their own faltering steps in the dance of life resurrected with a Spirit breath of hope.

“I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black, it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back; they buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance and I still go on.”[2]

I am amazed at the strength of spirit I sometimes see. In the midst of loss, I have seen resilience; in the heartbreak of grief I have seen the miracle of new life. Faces clouded by dementia break into a smile of recognition and a tap of the foot when a familiar song is sung. Somehow, the dance of life still goes on.

During the revolution in El Salvador in the 1980s, there was a group of peasants who risked their lives to make their voices heard. Their family members had been killed, and some tortured, by the army but they had had enough of bloodshed and decided on a non-violent action to protest the army’s brutality. They set up a road block and they brought food and music. They then dared to invite the soldiers to join them in feasting and in dancing…and the soldiers accepted. It’s hard to dance with the devil on the your back, but it’s even harder to continue seeing the devil in the eyes of someone who is feasting and dancing with you.

This is the miracle of resurrection. From the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The life that Jesus offers us is one that does not give in to hatred, to revenge, to retribution. It is a life of deep peace, even in the midst of pain and grief. It is a life committed to reconciliation and forgiveness when we are tempted to call the other “enemy.”

When I was in El Salvador 3 years ago, I was overwhelmed by their stories. One man welcomed us to a bar that he had opened for veterans of both sides of the war. Former guerrillas and soldiers, who were once killing each other, were now coming to sit and talk together for the first time since the war. The bar-owner’s creative courage enabled the dance of life to continue.

This is the dance to which we, as followers of the resurrected Christ, are invited. This dance is a delicate one of toe-crunching mis-steps. But when you keep trying; when you keep learning how to dance, there will be delightful moments of synergy when you and your dance partner move together as one. I love watching the older couples dancing at our Samedi Swing. They flow around the dance floor amidst the rest of us stumbling and bumbling. But even those of us who are a little less graceful still must dance.

In 1986, the United Church was asked by the National Native Consultation to apologize for how Aboriginal people had been treated. Stan McKay writes about this experience, “The elders guided the discussion and asked us to arrange for a big drum and singers to be a part of the gathering…Some of us who were younger asked why we would spend money on having a group of singers come with the drum, when we didn’t know if the United Church would apologize. The Elders responded, “Whether the church apologizes or not, we must dance.”[3]

When life sends us a zinger, when we are deeply hurt, when we suffer a tremendous loss, Jesus is offering us his hand, inviting us to get back on our feet and join him in the dance of life. We may be wounded, but still we must dance.

“They cut me down and I leap up high, I am the life that will never, never die; I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me; I am the Lord of the dance, said he. Dance, then, wherever you may be…I’ll lead you all in the dance said he.”[4]

[1] Gathering: Lent/Easter 2015 (Toronto: The United Church of Canada), p. 18.

[2] vs 4 of Voices United Hymn 352 “I Danced in the Morning”

[3] Stan McKay, “Still, We Must Dance,” Longing for Home: Daily Reflections for Lent, ed. Alydia Smith (Toronto: United Church of Canada, 2014), p. 106.

[4]vs 5 & chorus of Voices United Hymn 352 “I Danced in the Morning”