Sunday, June 11, 2017: Trinity Sunday "Lord of the Dance" Fr. Carey Stone

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Trinity Sunday A17

11 June 2017

II Cor.13.11-13; Matt. 28.16-20

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

 

Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

- The Opening Salutation from The Book of Common Prayer

 

From an early age dancing just never came natural for me. I can think back all the way to Kindergarten when I was selected to be one of the three little pigs in a play. I can still see in my minds eye the plastic Halloween pig mask with the thin elastic strap matched with a shiny pink polyester jump suit and black dress shoes for hooves. Part of what was required besides being able to say in a whinny voice: “Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin” was that I had to be able to dance a jig along with my fellow pigs. The night of the performance I must have really gotten carried away because I danced right off of the stage scraping my inseam on the way down to the floor, but the adrenaline blocked the pain and I jumped back up on stage and finished my dance such as it was. That night as one of the three little pigs proved to be prophetic, as my dancing ability never really got off the ground.

 

Today across the Anglican Communion we observe Trinity Sunday and after celebrating the high holy days of Easter and Pentecost a Sunday where we commemorate a doctrine seems a bit anticlimactic!

 

Trinity (a word that by the way does not appear in scripture) is a subject that has stymied theologians for centuries.  “How can One God exist in three persons?” It actually took a couple of centuries of the Church’s grappling with the subject to come up with a formal doctrinal statement that we know today as the Nicene Creed which was written in the year 325.

 

Theologians both in the west and the east would continue to haggle. A bit later St. Patrick would attempt to explain the doctrine to the children of Ireland by holding up a three-leaf clover. So by the time the subject gets around to us in the 21st century we find ourselves scratching our heads and asking, "What's the big deal? What do we care? How does this great theological mystery concern us at all?" One of the better explanations of the Trinity developed in the 7th century by Sts. Cyril of Alexandria and John of Damascus. They coined a word in Greek in an effort to shed light on this mystery. The Greek word is περιχώρησις (Perichoresis), which literally means “rotation.”[1] This understanding of the Trinity presents a Triune God who is by nature a community of love in a dance of intimacy.

 

Later, in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux in one of his sermons made a stab at trying to explain this intimate dance of God: “If, as is properly understood, the Father is he who kisses, the Son he who is kissed, then it cannot be wrong to see in the kiss the Holy Spirit, for he is the imperturbable peace of the Father and the Son, their unshakable bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity.” [2]The Triune God: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in an intimate dance of Love, so big that it has to be shared.

 

As I think of this dance, an image of a Greek circle dance that I saw once at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City comes to mind, where young and old place their arms on each others shoulders as they go round and round while inviting any willing spectators to join in.

 

Sydney Carter, a 20th cen. poet and folk song writer captured this Divine movement in his folk hymn, “Lord of the Dance” which he set to Shaker hymn tune, “Simple Gifts” and since being written in 1963 has spread throughout the world and is sung in churches of many different denominations. For Carter, the God of his understanding was like a piper drawing everyone into a sacred and spirited dance and he kind of got a charge out of using “the dance” as a metaphor seeing as how a lot of denominations within Christianity frowned upon dancing. As he remembered the Shakers of 18th and 19th century America who danced as part of their worship service, he saw the dance as a perfect illustration of the lengths God was willing to go in order to draw all humanity towards the love of God. In an interview Carter said, "I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord ... Anyway, it's the sort of Christianity I believe in."[3]

The hymn starts out with the Trinity presiding over the moment of creation and then with God the Son coming to earth for our sake:

 

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.

 

 

The hymn then has a verse about inviting religious folk but only fishermen accepted the invitation:

 

I danced for the scribe

and the Pharisee,

but they would not dance

and they wouldn't follow me.

I danced for the fishermen,

for James and John -

they came with me

and the dance went on.

 

Then there are a couple of verses about the crucifixion followed by the idea that the Dance of God still goes on inviting all who will join in:

 

 

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.

 

 

And the chorus goes like this:

Refrain

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.

 

 

Perhaps the key to understanding the mystery of the Holy Trinity is not so much in the knowing as it is in the dancing. The triune God invites us all to join God, Jesus, the ”Lord of the Dance”, and the Holy Spirit in the divine circle dance where we are loved and embraced just as we are, where people like me who can’t even master the two-step can find a place in the circle of Love. Amen.

 

 

 

 



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perichoresis

[2] Clairvaux, Bernard, St., Sermon 8, Sermons on the Song of Songs