Grace in the darkness: walking in the light

Our minister is off sick this Sunday. His friend the Rev. Ena Van Zoeren of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Salmon Arm, British Columbia is providing this week’s sermon based on Easter 2, Year B Lectionary texts. Thanks Ena for for sharing God’s word with us this Sunday.

Lord of the Dance

Hello everyone and thanks for joining us for worship today.
There is no video for this week.

Opening Prayers:
God of new life,
we come to you, rejoicing in the mystery of the Risen Christ,
present among us always, even when we least expect him.
We marvel at your constant love,
your victory over evil and death,
and your resurrecting hope which embraces us in every circumstance.
Trusting in these gifts, we seek to live as Easter people in every place and time.
Strengthen us with the gift of your Holy Spirit in this time of worship,
and bless us with your peace through Christ, our Risen Lord.

Yet even as we delight in Easter’s promise,
let us confess the ways we fail to live it out:

Merciful God,
we confess there are times when our trust in you weakens,
and we become anxious about many things.
We talk about love,
but we are gripped by fear of those who differ from us.
We cling to our personal agendas
and forget you call us to live as a community of believers.
Forgive us for seeking our own interests before the needs of others.
Open our eyes to the many signs of your love for us.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit, rekindle our passion for you,
so we can work together to witness to your love.

Assurance of Forgiveness:
Hear the words of the risen Christ: Peace be with you.
Receive the peace and forgiveness of Christ,
and rejoice in his gift of new life this day and every day. Thanks be to God.

Prayer for Understanding:
Breathe your Holy Spirit upon us, O Lord, as we listen to the scriptures.
Open our minds and hearts to receive your Living Word, and be filled with renewed hope.
We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Song: Lord of the Dance

Reflection: “Lord of the Dance”
(Note: Bible passages are included throughout this reflection)

As Christians with a Presbyterian / Reformed bias, the hymn and spiritual songs are second only to the scriptures as being the most important source of the inspiration and content of our worship and spiritual growth.

On the first Sunday after Christmas I typically reflect upon Christmas carol or two, exploring their history, theology, themes, and their meaning for us. I explore these mini-sermons / poems put to music to enable us use their words to worship God and encourage one another in new and deeper ways.

On this first Sunday after Easter I thought I would explore with you the song “I danced in the morning” or sometimes called “Lord of the dance.” It was written by English poet and songwriter Sydney Carter and was published in 1963. He also wrote another song we know “One more step along the world I go.”

The tune for his song was based on the American Shaker tune “Simple gifts.” The Shakers are a Christian sect that was founded in England 1747 and organized in the United states in the 1780’s. Shakers were known for their ecstatic behavior when they were filled with the Holy Spirit where they would literally shake, hence the name Shakers. The Shakers lived communally holding all things in common. They were an egalitarian faith community whose leadership was shared equally between men and women. They were known for their simple living, their architecture, technological renovations, and their furniture.

Their worship services included dance, marches, singing that were accompanied with symbolic movements. Carter chose the Shaker tune as it inspires one to move or dance as one sings the words of this song about Jesus’ life and work. The tune to “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness” has the same effect on inspiring us to sway with the music as we sing about the work of the Holy Spirit in the formation, life, and witness of the church.

Carter also drew inspiration for his song from an image of the Hindu dancing deity Shiva.

The words of “Lord of the Dance” were inspired by a medieval song entitled “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.” If you look up this song on Wikipedia you’ll find many similarities to Carter’s song.

Carter’s song, like the one that inspired it, portrays Jesus’ life and mission as a dance and is told by Jesus in the first person. The use of comparing Jesus to a dancer and his message to a dance fits in well with the use of allegory and symbolism that the Shakers and others have used to communicate the story and message of Jesus throughout the years.

Two prime examples of others who have used allegory in a powerful way are Puritan preacher Paul Bunyan’s 1678 allegory of the Christian life “Pilgrim Progress” and Calvin Miller’s “The Singer” trilogy published in 1975, where Jesus is portrayed as a singer and the gospel as a song. These symbolic and allegorical stories help us to connect us the story of Christ emotionally, visually, and imaginatively.

The church from its beginning has used symbolism, imagination, and the arts to share the story of Christ’s life and work among ourselves and with the world. Our use of the monitors in our worship, showing images as well as words has helped both right brained (creative / image focused) people and left brained (verbal / fact focused) people to deepen their worship experience of God.

Now for the content of the song.

Verse 1 points to Jesus as the creator of the universe and to his incarnation as the child of Bethlehem.

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had My birth

This verse has John 1:1-14 and Luke 2:1-7 reflected in it. John uses symbolic language to communicate how Jesus, the eternal Word / logos / wisdom of God became human and moved in our neighborhood to reveals God grace and truth to us. Luke, the historian of Jesus and the Early Church gives us the details of Jesus’ birth.

Carter points us to the beginning of the dance of God’s creative and redemptive activity in our world. It is the dance that we are invited to join in as we follow the lead of Jesus who is the Lord of the Dance.

Dance then wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said He
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the dance said He

Jesus is the Creator, Choreographer and Co-dancer with us in the dance of faithfulness to God that he creates and demonstrates for us.

I remember taking a ballroom dance class at university because my parents loved to dance and thought I might meet my future bride on the dance floor. It was a process of listening to the teacher, learning the steps with others in my class, and then dancing to the music both in class and whenever the occasion arose at weddings and family gatherings. There is something mystical and spiritual as the Shakers knew about being in step God as symbolized in their dances and marches.

Verse 2, highlights those who embraced Jesus as the Lord of the Dance, who participated in it with who did not join in and missed on the joy of dancing with Jesus. As one reads through the gospels, one sees this division of those who dance and those who refuse to dance with Jesus.

I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee
But they would not dance and they would not follow Me
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John
They came with Me and the dance went on

Some don’t always like the Jesus dance that the church is promoting and dancing to, while some can’t but help be moved to celebrate and appreciate the life giving and life affirming dance of Jesus. Carter reminds us that regardless of those who refuse to dance, the Dance / Gospel continues on through the actions and faith of Christ’s followers.

You’ll note in Carter’s poetry that lines 1-2 and lines 3-4 rhyme. We find an intentional pattern of rhyming, repetition, comparing, and restating ideas throughout the poetry of the Psalms and Prophets in their songs.

This creative poetic and musical form lend themselves to be easily remembered and easily brought to mind when we need to remember God’s words to us. I suspect we know the Christmas story because the carols we have sung over many years.

Verse 3 encourages us to recall the compassionate ministry of Jesus that often got him into trouble with religious authorities. Luke 5:12-39 provides some occasions where the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (Carter’s “holy people”) are angry with Jesus. This and similar incidents lead to the death of Jesus by crucifixion.

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame
They whipped and they stripped and they hung Me on high
And they left Me there on a cross to die

I wonder if Carter in this verse is wanting us to recall our own reactions to Jesus’ compassionate ministry. During Lent we looked at how people who encountered Jesus responded to Him. The Church has always struggled with how broad, wide, and high is the compassion and mercy of God? We have struggled with when do we embrace change and when we do oppose change within the church and within the larger society? When do we dance with Jesus to his compassionate and inclusive rhythms and when do we oppose Jesus and dance to the tune of our own drums? This is the question we typically ask on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday, but we cannot and should not limit this important question to a single Sunday or season of the church calendar. As Carter rightly reminds us, Jesus as the Lord of the Gospel dance, leads us in it “wherever you may be.”

Verse 4 directs more directly to the events of Good Friday.

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

Carter pulls from the narrative and symbolism of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and then burial on Good Friday to be found in Mark 15:16-39, John 19:38-42

The image of the devil dancing of Jesus back brings to mind the great struggle Jesus had the devil from the time of temptations to the sacrifice Jesus makes for us. In the larger context of the life of the church, the “devil dancing on your back” points us to harsh treatment of Christians, around the world who have been persecuted, arrested, mistreated, and killed for their faith and in standing up for the least in their communities as well.

We are reminded to in Carter’s playful and insightful poetry that despite the death of Jesus and other set backs we face as a church in our time, the Gospel dance of Jesus continues and many continue to be inspired by Jesus’ grace and mercy under fire.

Verse 5, wraps up the song with a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

They cut Me down and I leapt 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

I love the image of Jesus being cut down and then leaping high in the air as do many Irish Step Dancers do in their dance routines. It is a symbolic gesture of life and triumph depicted for us just as the jumping up and down of an athlete or sports team that wins their game or match.

This echoes for me the words of Paul in Romans 8:35-39
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And Jesus declared to his friends Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died, in John 11:25-26…
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

This verse highlights and celebrates the triumph and the assurance that resurrection brings to us that we celebrate on every Sunday, the day of Christ’s rising.

Whether we call our faithfulness to Jesus as discipleship, or following Jesus, or being born again, or our walk with God, or our dance with God, the focus is always to be on joining with God in his ongoing compassionate and redemptive mission in the world. We are to keep looking to Jesus the Lord of the Dance, the Head of the Church, the Alpha and Omega, the One who leads us in dance of faith and who calls to invite others to join us in this amazing dance of creation and recreation.

In this coming week may you “Dance then wherever you may be” Jesus, the Lord of the dance! AMEN.


Lord of the Dance

Prayers of the People:

Thank you, loving God, for your renewing presence in our lives,
and for the many ways you make yourself known to us:
in words spoken in peace,
in actions that embody love,
in creation that awakens wonder within us,
and in worship that inspires faith and understanding.
With memories of the grace you have shown us,
and with confidence in you will yet show us more,
we pray that all people will come to know the life-giving joy we find in Christ.

We pray for those who are feeling fearful, worried or overwhelmed,
especially as the months of pandemic restrictions stretch on.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for those who face violence and unrest each day,
in countries around the world and at home in our own community.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for our national, provincial, and municipal leaders
as they lead planning for our communities to recover from the pandemic.
Give them wisdom and compassion,
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for our congregation, for churches in our community,
and for Christians around the world, especially those who face persecution.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for our neighbours, especially for those who live in poverty
and those who know rejection and discrimination.
Lord Jesus, Reveal to them your risen presence.

We pray for those who are ill, in pain or in grief.
We remember before you, silently or aloud, those on our hearts today:
(Keep silence for 20–30 seconds.)

Bring them comfort and strength,
Lord Jesus,
Reveal to them your risen presence.

God our Maker, hear our prayers,
and use us in ways we may not yet even imagine
to respond to those around us with the love we see in Jesus Christ
and the confidence we draw from his resurrection.
With hopeful hearts we offer the prayers to you this day.
In Christ we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Blessing (John Calvin)
We go into this new week to follow the lead
of Christ, the Lord of the Dance,
who leads us to experience, follow, and share
his Gospel dance he gives to us.

The grace of God the Father
and the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
dwell in us forever.

* * * * * * * *

Mission Moment – April 11, 2021

Annakala Finds Answers at Shining Hospital
In Nepal, Annakala Nepali was living in significant discomfort. Severe problems with her fingers, along with loss of sensation in her legs and tingling in her body were followed by vision problems. In Annakala’s community, many people prefer traditional healers to address their medical problems—Annakala decided to do the same. However, she still suffered after the visit. Her daughter-in-law, on seeing her in pain and suspecting that it might be due to leprosy, encouraged Annakala to visit the Presbyterian World Service & Development-supported Shining Hospital. Once she was admitted to the hospital, she was officially diagnosed with leprosy and started treatment, which has improved her symptoms and pain. Annakala is very grateful for the Shining Hospital’s care, love and support.

Prayer Partnership

Sunday, April 11 We pray for all those who are suffering from illness or long-term health conditions. May Christ’s healing be received and experienced.

Monday, April 12 We pray for those in the Order of Diaconal Ministries who serve the church in areas of Christian education, pastoral care and social ministry.

Tuesday, April 13 We pray for our Muslim neighbours as they fast and pray during the month of Ramadan.

Wednesday, April 14 We pray for the ministry of congregations and missions receiving grants this spring, that their programs and initiatives will share the love of Christ in their communities.

Thursday, April 15 We pray for the Continuing Education Grants Committee as they meet this month and consider applications from ministers seeking to enrich their ministry with further study.

Friday, April 16 We pray for the ministries and mission of the Presbytery of Central Alberta.

Saturday, April 17 We pray for farmers in Guatemala receiving support from Presbyterian World Service & Development to improve their harvests by protecting their soil and water resources.

You are the Resurrected and Resurrecting One

Mark’s ending of his Gospel is surprising. It reminds us fear and bewilderment are associated with Christ’s resurrection as well as joy and praise. Since God raised Jesus from the dead, you never know how God’s will raise us from our sorrow and anxieties.

You are the Merciful Son of David

The story of the healing of Bartimaeus provides us with an opportunity to explore “what we do want God to do for us?” and to explore how well respond to cries for help.

You are the Suffering and Risen Messiah

Jesus is God’s anointed leader, who chose suffering, death and resurrection as the way to bring about God’s redemptive plans.
Jesus calls us to follow him and participate in God’s Kingdom by putting others first and sacrificing for others.

You are our Brother!

Jesus calls 12 people to be his followers called disciples to form a new community by which God carries out his redemptive plans in the world. Jesus returns home to Nazareth where his family wonder who He is. Jesus declares that all who do God’s will are his family. We reflect upon Jesus being our brother today.

You are the Holy One of God, who speaks and acts with Divine Authority

Lenten Series: Who is Jesus? Who is the Christ? The question is answered by those by those who encountered Jesus.
This week the crowds and demons see Jesus as the Holy One who speaks and acts with divine authority.
Question for us is “How do we respond to God’s authority? And are we amazed by it as the crowds were?

You Are God’s Beloved Son

Lenten Series: Who is Jesus? Who is the Christ? This series we explore how various person’s in the Gospel of Mark answered these two questions. This week we start with Mark’s own declaration as to who Jesus is at the beginning of his Good News (Gospel) about Jesus.
This series is based on the sermon series “Who is Jesus? Who is the Christ?” written by Scott E. Hozee and Carrie Steenwyk in Reformed Worship, Issue # 90