“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Dancing is joyful bodies in motion, expressing exuberant praise,fully alive. In the Anglican church in Zimbabwe people dance in the church services, the music carrying them all aloft- the men, the Mother’s Union, worshippers in the congregation during hymns all the time!
The most splendid parties in honor of the most significant and wonderful occasions: the wedding of a beloved child, a 40th or 50th or 60th birthday, an anniversary of a long married couple — such special parties hire a live band – SO EVERYONE CAN DANCE.
I go to lots of ordinations – one gifted priest before her ordination, made a mix-tape for the reception, so that after the pink punch and the sugar cookies were served and the ordination certificate presented, she and I and all her friends and family could rock out to the rhythm of music.
The most joyous dances are the ones where you don’t have to have a partner of your own, but you can enter the floor and join a dancing couple or start a line or create a dancing circle.
There’s a freedom and unselfconsciousness about dancing that dissolves barriers. Dancing is an intensified specialized kind of moving. Moving is a fundamental way of knowing– like seeing or tasting and hearing, and even of entering into holy scripture.
On this 4th Sunday of Lent we hear this most familiar story, usually called, The Prodigal Son. Today with this one, I want to enter into it physically – To tell it and hear it in movement, that most essential human faculty.
We know the story well. The set up, “there was a man who had two sons.”
The younger son’s decision and his emotional orientation and his spiritual attitude at the beginning of the parable are all summarized, epitomized in one movement, one gesture.
He took all his property, everything he had and “traveled to a distant country.”
He “traveled to a distant country.”
He is at a geographical, emotional, spiritual distance from home. He exiles himself, goes to some strange place where he doesn’t know the customs, where there are no “support systems.” He goes by choice – into an alien land.
That journey is tiring. He has sore muscles and a fatigued mind. — he spends his money until it’s all gone. (Opioid addiction or compulsive gambling or mental illness or those patterns and powers that the New Testament calls sin)
We know how bad it gets. How he “hits bottom.” We are told his thoughts as he considers his options. But his decision is told in MOVEMENT.
“when he came to himself” it’s like a part of himself had also traveled far away…
“I will get up and go to my father” – rising up, getting up from his funk, from rock bottom, like the beggar on the road jumping up to follow Jesus or the healed mother getting up out of bed.
“I will get up and go to my father”
He is on his way, setting out to cross that tiring distance he had traveled to exile himself.
We haven’t known anything about the father’s feelings or his character until now, and it, too, is all told with movement.
The father’s first physical gesture is an internal one. It begins with an unusual word having to do with the inner organs especially in the stomach or the womb.It’s translated here “he was moved with compassion.” Gut wrenching, bowel grinding, like the contractions of labor, the physical turning, literally, in response to the suffering of another human being. The other times it is used in Luke is for Jesus when he sees the widow whose only son has died and for the Samaritan when he sees the beaten up body in the ditch.
Then the more visible, outward, big gestures: While he was still at a distance… He ran….
He Embraced him, He hugged him. You know what this looks like! He Kissed him.
And the child is wrapped in the embrace. Touched by the kiss.
“Dress him, get the food ready, set up the party!” he says. “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’
This reunion, this return, this consummation of relationship, restoration of family bonds, this homecoming, this healing, repentance and forgiveness, this getting up and going and traveling back, must be celebrated with the neighbors and friends and relatives and with anyone and with everyone.
It’s true all through the gospel of Luke – rejoicing. Like the rejoicing when John was born to his elderly parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. Or when the runaway sheep is found on the rocks by the edge of the sea, or the coin that had gone missing in the dim and dusty house is swept into view by the tireless woman.
How will we celebrate? With a great live band in a big space with a beat you cannot resist. The older son. We had almost forgotten about him.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
What is the gesture that characterizes him? How does the older brother move that shows us how he feels? “Then he became angry and refused to go in.”
You can see why he was resentful. He had stayed at home and saved his money and now he didn’t feel loved — “You never had a party for me.”
His movement is NOT MOVING. He crossed his arms across his chest. In a stand-off with his father. He refused to go in. Refused to eat, refused to drink, refused to dance.
Let’s review the story told in Movement.
The younger son: “traveled to a distant country.”“when he came to himself” “I will get up and go to my father”
The father: “moved with compassion” “He ran…. He embraced him, He kissed him.”
The older brother: “Then he became angry and refused to go in.”
The movement that arches over the whole story and the movement that encompasses all – that movement is the dance of God.
The dancing in the worship of the Anglican church of Zimbabwe, the dancing at the wedding of our friends or our child or the child of our friends, dancing at an ordination reception is a modest, ordinary sacramental reflection of the feast, the banquet, the party that God is hosting and that God is inviting us to, because it’s celebrating us, our redemption, our forgiveness, our return, our reunion and restoration.
Like every good party there is food and wine and music and dancing, dancing for joy.
Like the best dances everybody is there, neighbors and strangers, single and married, young and old, the ones who’ve been good all their lives and the ones who have sinned, collected taxes, prostituted themselves, wasted their money in dissolute living.
Sure we can refuse. And sometimes we do.
This eucharist that we about to share, this eucharist is an Easter party, celebrating the finding of the lost and the dead coming to life. There’s food and wine, and in Zimbabwean church literal dancing, and in ours dancing that maybe you haven’t seen before, but try to see and to feel and to move with it today.
‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” Let us join the dance. Amen.