Dancing before the Lord - Rachel's first Eucharist

Dom Andrew Johnson
Sunday, July 12, 2015 - 10:00am

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 14-29

Dancing before the Lord is an activity which goes back a long time, though it has not always been greatly admired – so it is that we heard this morning that King David’s dancing and leaping attracted the disdain of Michal, the daughter of Saul. In our own time, some people are moved by the Spirit to dance, and sometimes not everything about the dancer stops when the music does. But there are other forms of dance that even a staid old Anglo-Catholic like me can enjoy. As members of the Church, we commit ourselves to a rhythmic movement through the year, from Advent and Christmas, through Lent and Easter, into the joy of the Time after Trinity, ending with the Feast of Christ the King, before we begin the progress again at the end of November. It is an annual liturgical dance through the time in which we live, which draws into the present moment the events of our salvation history. Through the stately, ritual steps of our Pavane for a Resurrected Lord, we profess and proclaim our belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and that we are members of his Body through our baptism. We experience afresh each year the events we encounter in the life of Jesus, as narrated and proclaimed in the Gospel readings at our Eucharist.
And today’s reading from Mark’s gospel brings us to a most uncomfortable place: to witness a dance for death undertaken by a fair young maid whose erotic cavorting pleased her uncle (who was also her stepfather) so much that he promised her even half his kingdom. At her mother’s suggestion, the girl asked instead for the head of a dangerous prophet who had condemned her mother’s decision to divorce the girl’s father in order to marry his brother. Salome receives her reward: the head of John the Baptist on a platter. It is a gory history that provides a strange and contrasting side-light on the history of that prophet’s better known cousin, Jesus the Nazarene.
And shall we enter into the story that we have heard today, in order to relive it and learn its lessons? How can we do such a thing? Will our clergy teach us how to do the dance of the seven veils (or in my case the seven tarpaulins), that we too may please the king? I do hope not. And yet learn from this story we must, and dance for joy we must, for it has been read to us on a very special day, when our well-beloved sister Rachel stands among us to celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist for the first time as a priest.
And I believe that the lesson we must learn today is one of contrast with the horrific picture of the gospel reading. For in Rachel we encounter one who has been called to lead us in the sacred liturgical dance of the ages. Unlike Salome, her dance is not erotic but commonplace, rooted as it is in the simple daily action of eating and drinking together, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ at her hands. And I am sure that the King of Heaven will be pleased with her dance before him, for it will reconcile to him all the broken and vulnerable children of God present in this place, enabling us to join together once more in the steps of the round dance of our love for him.
And like Salome, Rachel will be rewarded for the beauty of her dance; but not with the head of a prophet that will decay and rot. Rachel does not dance today for death; she dances for life – the eternal life of Christ expressed in his Body the Church, and also for our life as God’s children. And she will share with us the reward that she receives; not a prophet’s head to keep, but the living Body of Christ that she will give us - the Sacramental presence of Christ that we have come together to receive as we stand in this place, united with all the Christian souls who have stood here before us, and united with other Christians around the world today who also stand with their priest and call the One who is Life to stand among them. This morning, Rachel leads us all in a dance through both time and space.
The apostle Paul wrote of the love of God, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship, the communion, the belonging-togetherness of the Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of Life. In that statement of God’s nature we find the divine dance into which we are persistently and insistently drawn. For our God is neither a solitary nor a diverse being, but a God who is relatedness, whose very being is a dance of love. And it is right that we should give thanks today to a number of individuals. Firstly to Lesley, Rachel’s mother, who rejoices with us but on another shore and in the nearer presence of God; and to her father Mike, and to Graham and Chris – for it is among them that Rachel learned to love and be loved, which is the beginning of the dance. Thanks also to Father Alec, for being prepared to nurture Rachel as she learns the ministerial steps of the dance; some of the steps that she will bring to the dance may be variations on the theme, complementary and not in opposition to your own – all of them given under the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit. And thanks to the people of God here, who have seen priests come, and seen priests go, and are still here; without you the dance of your priests is ineffective, and it is only when we dance together that we grow more like Christ. Transformed into the likeness of our God, from one degree of glory to another, we are truly made partakers of the divine nature, as we are led in the dance of the Eucharist, led this morning by Rachel. And so, as the Mock Turtle said to Alice, ‘Will you? Won’t you? Will you? Won’t you? Won’t you join the Dance?