David's Dance

My congregation is considering a plan to begin the narrative lectionary.  This is a plan for preaching through the Bible that is similar to the revised common lectionary, which many mainline congregations use.  It takes you through Genesis and Exodus, through the prophets, through one gospel a year with no jumping around or skipping things, and makes what I hope is a coherent narrative through the Bible.  I'm excited about it, because some of the things that the regular lectionary leaves out are more interesting than what it leaves in.  Today, for instance, I find this story of David and his dancing around the ark fascinating.  Yes, this story is from the lectionary, but it leaves some key verses out, from verses 6 through 12 in 2 Samuel.

Here's the story of what it leaves out: in the middle of this procession where David dances before the ark and animals are sacrificed every six paces, one of the priests, Uzzah, reaches out to steady the ark, because it was falling over, and he dies.  Really.  He dies. David gets scared, as one would, even someone who has the favor of the Lord like King David.  He pulls the ark over to someone else's house for three months, before being convinced to bring the ark all the way into Jerusalem.  The house where the ark rested for three months had good fortune and was blessed for those whole three months, and then David remembered that he wanted that for the whole people of Israel.  He overcame his fear and brought the ark into Jerusalem and with it the power of God.

There is a history of the presence of God being so powerful that lives are at stake.  It seems to have to do with respect and with rejoicing before the Lord.  If the presence of the Lord in the ark came into your town in more than one story in the Hebrew Scriptures, and you don't rejoice or treat the ark with respect, it is deadly serious business.  In 1 Samuel, the ark came into a town and all the people stood there, like...well, like German or Norwegian Lutherans, and crossed their arms, and...they all died.

No wonder these verses were cut out of the regular lectionary!  Even though I AM Lutheran and also German by background, and unless there's a wedding where people are having a really, really super great time, there's no dancing anywhere near a church....but we'd still rather hear about the dancing, with the power of the ark even to death carefully edited away.  The presence of the Lord as something that can move heaven and earth and bring life and, yes, death, is something that we tend to forget, or edit out, or not want to think about.

But aren't we only a few months removed from Easter?  Aren't we, in fact, Easter People?  Don't we want to celebrate the incarnation and resurrection all year round?  And the resurrection is, more than anything else, a testament to the power of God over life and death.

I want people to know that God is accessible, that God is their friend, that God is loving and forgiving and wonderful, and I believe those things are true.  But I also believe that the resurrection shows us that God is a mystery, that God is ineffable...I never forget a teacher of mine who taught me systematic theology, who fit everything about God, Jesus, and the universe into a system in a semester. He said that at some point we just shut our mouths, even placing his hands over his mouth to illustrate.  At some point we just shut up in the presence of God, and there are things we can't explain, because God's presence itself is a mystery.

David forgot.  David forgot the part about the stories that said to treat the ark with the utmost respect, to not touch it, to carry it in a certain way, with poles, with reverence, not on some cart.  And it delayed the entrance of the ark for months into Jerusalem, the presence of God, and cost some poor guy his life.

We forget, too, sometimes the mystery of dealing with a God who will not always be defined and is often inexplicable.  But there are those who have not forgotten.

I am a child of the 1980s, and when I was probably a little too young, I saw the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark."  If you are of a certain age and you know this movie well, and you know the story involves a search for and recovery of the ark of the covenant, which was considered to be valuable beyond all treasures by the bad guys AND the good guys. 

But do you remember the last scene?  The scene in which they open the ark out in the desert, and they're ready to harness its power?  I remember covering my eyes, peeking through my fingers at the power unleashed that killed all the ones who dared look into the ark.  Only good old Indiana Jones and Marian, who are smart enough to not look directly at the power of God, survive this unleashing, the literal face-melting power of God.

Sometimes it takes popular culture, even vintage popular cultures such as this, to remind us that the power of God is nothing to be ashamed of, and in fact, is the mystery in which we have faith. 

What David remembered, and what we remembered too, is that the presence of God is a blessing and is to be celebrated, even in the midst of all of its power.  I love how in the Hebrew Scriptures, God mandates celebration!  In this story, David was liturgically dancing, as he defends himself to Michal, his wife, because God COMMANDS celebration as the presence of God in the ark comes into the community.  God does not command dissection of why and how and what all of this is going to mean, but just celebration.  This is why David danced...maybe he didn't feel like dancing, maybe he was still afraid of the power of death, but sometimes in the presence of God and all that blessing, we don't ask why, we just give in to our childlike side and dance.  Michal had her own reasons for despising David...wow, did THEY have a checkered history together...but she does not understand that dancing, this celebration, is the God ordained response to the ark, the very mystery and presence of God, coming into their city that day.

Can you imagine simply dancing in the presence of God?  We even debate dancing in our churches sometimes and what type of music should be in worship and is truly worshipful and what IS proper worship of the Lord.  We live in our heads much of the time these days...we comment and comment on articles on the Internet until we've exhausted every possible angle and aren't even civil with one another anymore.  We think through every possible situation and try to prove our position.

I know I can be guilty of this as well, but when I read a tribal, primal story like this whole story of David and the ark in 2 Samuel, I remember that it's not necessarily about understanding everything or even making sense of everything.  Sometimes this is hard to hear, but our artists in moviemaking, songwriting, poetry, and yes, dancing, are preaching this mystery to us in spite of our obsession with facts and proof.

They tell us of a God like the God who David knew....a God of mystery and delight and celebration, a God to be feared and worshipped, a God who showed us, like a mother, rules and guidelines for our own good on this earth.  A God who has power over life and over death.  A God who calls us to obey and calls us up from the dead, even death on a cross, and calls us, when we find ourselves in the presence of the mystery, to dance. 

Let us pray.  Lord of the Dance, call us into the mystery that we see all around us that proclaims your powerful presence.  Remind us that you are life from death, that your name is resurrection. Call us and help us to live into your mystery.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.