2nd April 2024

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

A sermon for Good Friday
Preached by Jeremy Davies
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
Readings: 1 Samuel 52 vv 13-53; Psalm 22 vv 1-21; Hebrews 10 vv 16-25; John 19 vv 38-42

You probably know the medieval English carol Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love; This have I done for my true love.

It’s a carol usually sung at Christmas – but the original ballad contains these rather un-Christmassy verses:

For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance; ‘Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold,’ The same is he shall lead the dance.

Then on the cross hangèd I was,
Where a spear to my heart did glance; There issued forth both water and blood, To call my true love to my dance.

Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love; This have I done for my true love.

‘This have I done for my true love’. The medieval carol characterises this day which we call Good Friday as an act of love: an act of love performed by the lover for his loved one. Jesus is the lover and we are the loved ones. This he has done for us. And though this is the most solemn and serious of days, it is a good day, and the medieval caroller saw the events of this day as a dance. The via dolorosa, the way of the cross, however painful and anguished, is a dance. And though the dance is dominated by a principal dancer who dances steps so painstakingly beautiful that that they are almost beyond our imagining, nevertheless it is a dance in which we are called to participate, in which we (however slow-footed and unathletic, spiritually as well as physically) have our part to play.

And that is why we do something rather odd in these days of Holy Week – odd to us western Christians. It wouldn’t be odd if we’d been born and brought up in Moscow or Athens or Crete, where participation in the liturgy, the kissing of ikons, the continuous chanting would be less a religious ritual and more the pattern of life. But we are not Orthodox Christians (at least not
in the technical sense) and it is odd for us to move out of the realm of the passive and the sedate and the utterly reasonable. We may sing about the dance but we are certainly not going to do it. And yet on Palm Sunday we had a real live donkey and we waved palm branches and went out of our church and out of our comfort zone.

Last night, many people from the congregation in full sight of their fellow worshippers bared their feet and had them washed by the celebrant; and then we kept a silent vigil before the sacrament till noon today. In a few moments many of us will come to the cross and kiss it, or touch it, or kneel before it, say a quick prayer. And tomorrow we will, many of us, come to the church and we will gather again, without our familiar comforts, at an hour, that should be dark but I fear will still be light! And in the darkness, in the cold, in the silence – watching and waiting and hoping that the dancer may yet again come among us and do his dance, and teach us the steps as he dances his way with us out of death and disaster into the new life of which he so often spoke.

Yes! We do odd and unaccustomed things in this Holy Week, and on Monday morning, it will be back to work or school, and Anglican decorum will once again be restored in our churches. But somehow we need to do this: we need to dramatise these events of which the bible speaks. Drama simply means ‘a doing’: and we need to do something. For the drama of Jesus’ passion and resurrection is something which touches us emotionally and intellectually, – spiritually, morally and physically. We have to get out of our seats, to make the drama our drama, and Jesus’ story our story. We are involved, we need to be involved. We cannot leave it to the scholars, or the clergy, or the religiously inclined. This is our dance, and the dancer has called us, and – clumsily and unrhythmically though it may be – we are going to join him in the dance. It may take a donkey to drag us kicking and screaming from our Anglican pews on to the dance floor so that we can touch the hem of Jesus’ seamless robe: but so be it.

Something happened that first Good Friday that men and women have pondered ever since. Something that changed individual lives for certain. Something that changed the way we look at life and the way we live it. Something that radically altered our view of God and his purposes for us. And still, in our own day, not only Christian people the world over, but those of other faiths and none, and artists, poets, novelists, musicians, sculptors and dancers have come back to this still point of the turning world to find their moral compass, their reference for life, their hope of heaven in the midst of hell.

What difference will it make, this dance of love in which we are invited to share? Will we just collapse exhausted after the first movement and think that dancing isn’t for us – it’s for the children or the elderly? Or will we find in the stillness of the dance, in the space between the bars, (or, as the poet T S Eliot said, ‘in the stillness between two waves of the sea’), will we find the meaning and purpose of life and, most of all, the love that so often eludes us?

Perhaps in this service when the movement and the music stops, when the endless torrent of words comes to an end, maybe in such a moment we can feel the dance that binds the moon and the stars together. We can in the stillness feel the pulse of life which begins to irrigate our tired and desiccated minds and bodies and spirits. And we can receive quite simply and honestly (our minds stripped of sophisticated argument, and our bodies stilled from the daily pressure) the truth which makes this Friday so, so good: and which we spend our lives resisting and avoiding: the truth that God loves us. There is nothing else to take from this service or from this week or indeed from our religion that can compare with this simple unadulterated fact: God loves us – and nothing in this world or beyond it can change that reality.

God goes to the ends of the world and beyond to find us and bring us home. That’s why this Friday is called Good Friday. Today has indeed become our dancing day, and so we follow the steps our Lord himself demonstrates as he leads us in his dance to heaven.