The Lord of the Dance

On Saturday, my family laid to rest my wife’s grandmother.  On Sunday morning, Christians throughout the world gathered to celebrate the resurrection.  I missed both gatherings. By Sunday evening, I had recovered from my illness to the point where I could sit and enjoy a little bit of food and the company of those gathered around the table.  This morning I came across a passage in Jürgen Moltmann’s most recent book where he riffs upon a saying of the great Alexandrian church father Athanasius:  “The risen Christ makes of life a never-ending festival.”1  What caught my attention was the way the passage brought together the resurrection, feasting and the festivity of life, and concluded with my grandmother-in-law’s favourite hymn.   Although, I trust there is something for everyone in this especially appropriate excerpt for the season of Easter:

“Christian worship was in fact and from the beginning a festival:  the festival of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  It was celebrated on the day following the Jewish sabbath, that is to say, on the first day of the Jewish week, at daybreak, and always as a eucharist, with bread and wine.  Easter begins with a feast, for Easter is a feast and makes the life of those who celebrate it a festal life.  Both are important:  one can encounter the glory of God, which appears in the raising of the crucified Christ, only with profound astonishment and can only celebrate the victory of life as festivity.  Jesus himself compared the presence of God, which he proclaimed and lived, with the rejoicing over a marriage.  His earthly life was a festal life, even if it ended in suffering and death.  How much more must the early Christians have understood his raising from the dead and the presence of the now-exalted Christ as the beginning of an unending joy and a happiness without end.  They also experienced the risen Christ as ‘the first among those who had fallen asleep’ and as the leader of life; as the leader in the mystic dance and himself as the bride who dances with the others, as the church father Hippolytus put it.  Long before the somber dances of death were painted in medieval times of plague, the figure of the resurrection dance can be seen in the old churches.  The modern Shaker song ‘The Lord of the Dance’ brings out very well the dancing Christ:

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.2

  1. Jürgen Moltmann, The Living God and the Fullness of Life, trans. Margaret Kohl (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), xi
  2. Ibid., 192

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