You probably know the medieval English carol Tomorrow shall be my
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love; This have I done for my
It’s a carol usually sung at Christmas - but the original ballad contains
these rather unChristmassy 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 hanged 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 profoundly 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 followed a cardboard cutout donkey in procession
and we waved palm branches and ben if on that occasion we didn’t go out
of church, we certainly moved out of our comfort zone. Last evening,
many people from the congregation in full sight of their fellow
worshippers bared their feet and had them washed by the priests; and then
we kept a silent vigil before the sacrament till nine o’clock this morning.
Then we stripped the sanctuary of its finery and its furnishings, and
scoured the altar with salt and water. 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 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
Yes!We do odd and unaccustomed things in this Holy Week, and on
Monday morning, it will be back to work or school, and Church of
England 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 an imaginary donkey (in the absence of alive one) 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, the
meaning and purpose and, most of all, the love that so often eludes us?
It was the poet T S Eliot, who most poignantly caught the paradox of the
dance and its still point when he wrote his poem Burnt Norton, (one of
Eliot’s sequence called Four Quartets). This poem is a sustained reflection
on time and transcendence.
At the still point of the turning world, neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say there we have been: but I cannot say where. And I cannot
say how long, for that is to place it in time.
Perhaps in this liturgy 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. That reality is the still point of the turning world -
without it there would be no dance. Today the still point is revealed is the
anguished figure of a man stretched upon a cross. Dead though he is he
dances on into the Kingdom his Father has prepared for him, and as we
enter into the stillness of this moment we learn the first steps of the dance.
For today has become our dancing day!