Jesus Crucifixion. Beyond Words. Lord of the Dance.

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Since the late 1980’s I’ve made my living with words, mostly talking and a smattering of writing. I take some comfort that words can matter. Jesus’ words mattered. They were passed on through a rich oral tradition, copied by hand onto parchments and then reproduced with each new technology.

I also know that the Crucifixion was a temporary cessation of words. Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ” was originally liturgical music and is preserved by the Vermeer Quartet. in a magnificent recording. Richard Young, a member of the quartet, explores the significance of Jesus “Seven Last Words in Echoes From Calvary, a must-have set of meditations on those words (it comes complete with an audio CD on which I voice the introduction), from luminaries such as Martin Marty, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Peter Gomes, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Andrew Greeley.

But the crucifixion was the event beyond words because in that moment the word, which had become flesh and had dwelt among us, died among us. For a moment, “the word” died. It was one thing to teach in parables, “God is love,” it took the crucifixion to prove it.

In a society in which words are losing their meaning it is good to remember that there is a time to stop talking and to prove our beliefs through our actions. Jeremiah lived in a day when people were glib talkers and God was “near in their mouth and far from their heart.” The Apostle Paul, quite a talker by any standard, knew there was a time to shut-up and said, “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power.”

Our culture has heard an abundance of words about Jesus but is impoverished due to words unaccompanied by action or worse yet, betrayed by hypocritical actions. Looking at the plight of the poor in “Christian” Latin America, Argentinean theologian Jose Miguel Bonino cried out, “theology has to stop explaining the world and start transforming it.”

Easter is the most liturgically rich season in the church calendar because the ancients understood as the orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann said, “As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will ‘represent” it and signify it, in art and beauty.” In the current issue of IMAGE Journal, Maggie Kast draws on a cluster of phrases from Bishop Albert Rouet, who advocated more dance in our Worship: “Christianity is a religion of the body,” and dance, “gathers up and condenses the essential reality of the human.”¢â‚¬¦People who dance give witness that they are not just flesh, but also movement, tension and desires.”¢â‚¬¦ “Sacred space also makes us think of the human body and its vital movements–warm and nocturnal that are the sources of life.” ¢â‚¬¦ “Dance is the indwelling with the body, the witness of an Other.”

The ancients also understood that liturgy equipped the community of believers for their task of reentering the world for the biggest dance of all, living life under the influence of the Lord of the dance. In the Old Shaker Hymn, adapted by Sydney Carter, it is action not words that win the day.

I danced in the morning when the world was begun, And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun, And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth, At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Refrain

Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,?And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he. I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee, But they would not dance and they would not follow me; I danced for the fishermen, for James and John; They came to me and the dance went on.

Refrain

I danced on the Sabbath when I cured the lame, The holy people said it was a shame; They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high; And they left me there on a cross to die.

Refrain

I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black; It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back; They buried my body and they thought I’d gone, But I am the dance and I still go on.

Refrain

They cut me down and I leapt up high, I am the life that’ll never, never die; I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

May the dance of your life reflect the Lord of the Dance speaking through your actions. In the words of St Francis, “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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