Are you a dancer? Do you ever go to a dance group, or watch dance? Have you ever been a dancer? – I don’t mean professionally, or even as a hobby, just: have you ever danced? You know, I reckon all of us have danced, at least once, and more than once, even if we have forgotten, or chosen to forget, about it. Think about it: all little children dance. Put on a piece of music, or just watch a little child moving about: he or she is full of natural dance and movement. For dancing is a very natural part of what it is to be human. Indeed, it is a natural, and even integral, part of what it is to be alive. For the whole creation is really, actually, a dance: a dance of all the elements of creation; in, and with, the glory of our dancing God. I hope that doesn’t seem like a shocking affirmation. If it does, then blame Jesus in our Gospel reading today. What is he saying? – why: let go of your burdens and dance with me. So, will we dance?...
Jesus’ message in our Gospel is quite different. ‘Come to me’, he says, ‘all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Do you and I believe that? Do we? If we did, if we do, well then wouldn’t be skipping to worship every day? Wouldn’t we be dancing in the aisles, and in the streets? Wouldn’t we, truly, be full of the ‘laughing light’ of the resurrection: the ‘laughing light’ which, for this very reason, is the theme of our Carnival of Flowers project this year? Wouldn’t we? Are we?
What kind of a yoke do you bear this morning? Is it one that weighs you down, so that you can hardly breathe, let alone dance, metaphorically as well as physically? Or is it the yoke of Jesus: as light as the breath of the Holy Spirit which breathes in, and through, and all around us, and which dances in all creation? If it is the first kind of yoke, or anything like it, can you lay it down, at the feet of Jesus this morning, and let it go? Can you give your burdens to God in prayer and trust that God will carry them? In the storms of your life today, can you put your hand in the hand of the One who stilled the waters and join the dance of life again? Let us hear the words of Jesus speaking to each of us this morning, whatever burdens we carry: ‘take my yoke upon you, and learn from me: for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ That’s the Gospel folks: our faith is not an extra burden to carry, or to worry about. Rather it is a way of letting go: a way of being set free and held in God’s embrace. It is an invitaton to dance freely again, like a little child.
Dance like a little child. That’s Jesus’ message to us, isn’t it? The people who first heard his message, couldn’t hear it, our Gospel says. They were, Jesus said, ‘like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “we played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” They couldn’t be like little children, who are natural with God and who, bearing an easy yoke, express their joy, and their sorrow, in dance and song. Of course, Jesus isn’t saying we have to become dancers or singers literally. Yet he is saying that, to live in God is to live like a little child, dancing our joy and sorrow in the freedom of God’s own dance. Jesus’ message is like that in the song Come from the Heart isn’t it?: You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money/ Love like you’ll never get hurt/ You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’/ It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.
How appropriate it is that we hear this message again on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Sunday, at the start of NADOC Week. For dance is one of the great gifts of the Spirit in Indigenous Australian cultures and it is a gift to encourage us to dance also: metaphorically at least. In Indigenous cultures, dance is a source of profound spiritual connection. Not for nothing are there dances for every important occasion and stage of life: dances respectively for welcoming and farewelling, for celebrating and cultivating community, for mourning and grieving, for sharing and letting go of life. Dance is not trivialised, or despised, as it can be in parts of wider Australian culture. Nor does it belong to little girls, a few women and even fewer men. It belongs to the whole community. Indeed, in the Torres Islands, it is men in the prime of life, the warriors, who are its leaders.
I believe that dance is indeed one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which is given to us to help us share Christ’s easy yoke and find rest for our souls. Indeed, I feel that is a special gift that we are being given for this particular parish. I say that for at least three wonderful reasons. The first is the presence of so many different cultures among us, not least Indigenous and Pacific Islander. Isn’t it such a joy that St Luke’s Hall was recently filled with Solomon Islanders dance as we sought to lighten the yoke of heaviness in the Islands and to celebrate continuing Gospel life? This coming Saturday there will be another opportunity to do so, as we share in marking Solomons Independence Day. Such new life and dance are part of the new journey of our parish as we respond to God’s fresh call to us. For, secondly, as a gift to us, dance is also core to other new partnerships in our parish, especially with Living Dance International. Wasn’t it fabulous to have such an amazing dance display by the dance school as part of our confirmation recently? This month Living Dance will begin to operate from St Mark’s throughout the week and they will formally begin a partnership with us, including more such opportunities to join in prayer and celebration together. Please do pray for Living Dance and this exciting development. It is a delightful work of God which can enrich us all and extend God’s mission to so many others. For, thirdly, as a gift to us, we also seem to be being called, as a parish, to be a community which seeks to dance spiritually, and to dance with others in this. After all, not least at St Luke’s, we have some amazing buildings to offer others to join in God’s dance. Just imagine for instance what we could share together, and with others, if we explored St Luke’s more fully as a site for creative expression. I believe that that is a central part of its missional possibilities: to be, as it were, ‘an art school of divine majesty’, a stage for the Spirit to dance, a spiritual theatre for the city. Dance is perhaps a great sacramental metaphor for us in this. For as one of my great clergy heroes, Steward Headlam, put it, ‘more than all the other arts, dance is an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual grace ordained by the word of God.’ After all, everything we do in our liturgy is also like a dance: a somewhat formal one perhaps, yet one in which every movement is intended to speak of God and to draw us closer to Christ, the Lord of the Dance.
In the light of today’s Gospel reading, it is particularly appropriate, on this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, to recall the words of our Torres Strait Anglican Bishop. Reconciliation, Bishop Saibo Mabo says, is an invitation to join the dance: the dance of Indigenous Australians, seeking a more loving, fulfilling and joyous Australia for all. Dance is indeed such a good image for Reconciliation. For we all know that dancing can be tricky at times. We can often feel awkward, clumsy, even embarrassed, with a new partner or partners. It takes courage to try, even simply to stand up and step put on the dance floor. Maybe we’ll never get it perfect. It doesn’t matter. What matters is whether we join in and open our heart. It is the same in our personal and shared journeys of Christian faith. We are called, as in our Gospel today: to ‘Sing like no one is listening. Love like we’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching, and live like it’s heaven on earth.’ Will we take up this invitation? Will we join God’s dance? In Jesus’ Name, Amen.