Worship Service, July 11, 2021 – Did Jesus Dance?
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, July 11, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “Did Jesus Dance”
You are welcome to join us in person for Indoor Worship, inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
John 2:1-11 “Did Jesus Dance?”
Footloose is a musical theater production that has also been made into two movies. It involves a story about a small town who has banned dancing withing its city limits. The effort to ban dancing is being led by a local preacher who is using the rationale that dancing leads to immoral acts like drinking and lust and desire, which can then lead young people astray to destructive behavior. The irony in the story is that the preacher’s daughter is one of the wildest teenagers in town and the preacher’s efforts to keep her in check only seem to make things worse. We later learn that behind the ban the preacher is leading and the way the daughter is behaving is deep grief around the loss of several teen-age boys who lost their lives after drinking and driving. One of the boys was the son of the preacher.
Then a young man enters into the town who knows nothing of this history. He learns of the ban, however, and begins a crusade to get it removed and to allow the high school to let the students have a dance. He befriends the wild daughter, who joins him in the fight. In the climatic scene of the story, the young man who is new to the town gets the idea to use the Bible to make his point to the town council. He makes his case that not all dancing is bad or leads to sin, because even the Bible itself says there is a time to dance in the book of Ecclesiastes. He quotes several instances where people dance in the Bible as well. The preacher and the town council listen as he makes his case and decide to change the ban on dancing. The story ends with a joyous dance scene where everyone is having a great time.
I can’t remember if the main character in Footloose quotes from the book of second Samuel, but it certainly would have been appropriate if he did, for we read today how King David danced before the ark of the covenant as it was brought into Jerusalem.
The text tells us that “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” Then later on it emphasizes this again. It says, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.”
This passage from second Samuel is all about David dancing and moving his body to give praise to the Lord. It is an act of celebration and even more so, it is an act of worship. It says that David was wearing a linen ephod. An ephod was a special garment worn by the priests when they would go into the tabernacle. A linen ephod would have been a simpler, less ornate garment, but the symbolism was the same. It was ceremonial dress used in worship.
Now here is David, wearing only that garment and dancing around. Imagine what the people must have been thinking when this great warrior who had defeated Goliath is now acting so undignified. Imagine the story being told years later as people heard how David, who became the greatest king in the history of Israel was dancing in the streets.
Some would have loved to have seen such an act of wild abandonment done in praise of God. But others would have offended. The Bible says 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. She may have been angry that David was going to overthrow her father for the throne, or she may have thought such a public display was beneath David and inappropriate for a man of his stature.
Reading this account about David dancing this week made me wonder if Jesus ever danced. The Bible says that Jesus was from the line of David. Does that mean he had some rhythm like his ancient ancestor? Does that mean he too would not have been afraid to publicly give praise to God through moving his body?
Over the years, writers, artists and even Biblical scholars have speculated whether or not Jesus would have danced. Like the preacher in the story of Footloose, there are those Christians who would say Jesus certainly would not have danced as they have come to see dancing leading to sinful acts. But others have come to say that although none of the four Gospels talks directly about dancing, it is highly likely that Jesus did do some dancing because the Bible does say Jesus attended a wedding, as we read today from the book of John, and most Jewish weddings at the time included some dancing as a part of the celebration. Typically, these dances were done in circles with men in one circle and women in another. It may have looked like this, as depicted in a television show about Jesus.
Typically, these dances were done in circles with men in one circle and women in another. It may have looked like this, as depicted in a television show about Jesus.
Jesus also welcomed children and included them as part of his teaching, so I like how this artist portrays Jesus dancing with children. There is a joy on his face that I think demonstrates the spirit of Jesus, as he would have related to others.
Religion professor Paul Dilley writes about the dance of Jesus and the apostles as portrayed in the ancient book called the Acts of John, which is a vivid and imaginative second-century description of the apostle’s missionary journey. In one section, the apostle John recalls how, on the night before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus commanded the apostles to form a circle around him, and to dance as he sang a hymn to which they responded in a series of “Amens.”
Prof. Dilley also points to evidence from an old Coptic manuscript that Jesus may have danced or that dance was a part of the early Christian rituals. The manuscript is dated to approximately the ninth century, and was discovered in an abandoned monastery in southern Egypt in the 1960s. One of the texts, which scholars call the Dance of the Savior, features a dance similar to the one in the Acts of John.
It seems as if there is a good chance then, that Jesus did do some dancing and that some of the ancient Christians actually incorporated some kind of dancing rituals as a part of their worship. Why is this important? For me it is important for a couple of reasons. One is that it tells us it is okay to move in worship. This would certainly be good news for generations of children who have been told that they have to sit still in church. It is good news for adults as well who have perhaps felt inhibited in worship or felt that worship was too stuffy. It says that it is okay to sway to the music, to clap your hands, or lift your head to the sky. It is okay to feel a joy in worship and not always just be serious. It is okay to express your praise not only with your mind and spirit, but also with your body.
Knowing that is okay to dance or move in worship reminds me as well that our mind, our spirits and our bodies are all connected. When our attitudes are down or spirits are negative, it can affect our physical well-being and vice versa, when our bodies are not feeling healthy, it can influence whether we can think clearly or have peace in our souls. So often in our Western culture we forget these connections. We tend to compartmentalize the different aspects of our existence and therefore miss the bigger picture of promoting harmony between our mind, body and spirit. Imagining Jesus dancing reminds me that God became flesh, which means God experienced the fragility and suffering that can come with living in a body, but God also experienced the pleasure and joy of expressing ourselves through our bodies and moving in rhythm with other folks in all their diverse forms of physicality.
We need to remind each other that our bodies are gifts from God. After all, God “knit us together” from our earliest moments, as Psalm 139 says, and we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We bear the image of God. Therefore, we are called to be good stewards and take care of our physical selves as well as our spiritual selves.
The way we feel about our bodies may make a bigger difference than we think. One study suggested that Christians who are reminded of these truths that we are made in God’s image and that God became flesh, are more likely to feel good about their bodies, regardless of their appearance. Conversely, Christians who held a theology that their bodies are evil and corrupt were more likely to feel body shame and hatred, which, ironically, made them more fixated with their bodies.
The truth is, our attitudes impact others. They can be part of the problem or part of the solution. If we’re harsh and critical of our bodies, we are complicit in a culture that says your body is shameful if it doesn’t look a certain way. But when we praise and celebrate one another in our physical diversity, we help set others free from thinking they have to look a certain way.
The culture around us is drowning in superficiality and misplaced priorities with the physical body. It takes all of us to cultivate a healthy culture of body image. Perhaps it can begin with celebrating that Jesus himself probably danced. We don’t know if he was a very good dancer, but that doesn’t matter because what matters is that he was expressing joy and giving praise to God through his body. And I’d be willing to bet that if Jesus danced, then he invited others to do so as well. This same Jesus invites us to join in too. Whether the world tells us we are too big or too small, too skinny or too heavy, too young or too old, Jesus says I love you as you are with the body you have and I want you to join my dance. Amen.