The Politics of Dancing

Preacher: Jeff Davidson

Scripture: 2 Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-21 and Mark 6:14-29

For most of the month of July the fellowship hall in the basement of the church building is being used by Tippi Toes for their summer program. For those of you who don’t know about them, Tippi Toes is a nationally franchised company that teaches dance to children. Depending on the franchise, the classes start for children as young as 18 months, and go up through about age 12.

Most of the year the Tippi Toes group in DC holds their classes at The Hill Center which is up the road from the church on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. But their summer program requires a larger space, and that’s where our fellowship hall comes in. Monday through Friday there are kids dancing in the fellowship hall and in the Sara Garber room most of the day. I don’t go in and watch the dancers, since the kids don’t know me and I don’t want to make them nervous, but I see them from time to time when I’m doing things around the building. The summer programs are built around a princess and superhero kind of theme, and the kids wear tiaras or capes or whatever. The instructors are all young women, and they are all dressed as dance princesses. It’s fun to see the kids in their outfits and to catch a glimpse of them every once in a while learning the joys of
movement and dance.

Sometimes, though, dance isn’t just about joy or about physical exercise. Sometimes dance is more than self-expression or art. Sometimes dance is about politics. We have two examples of dance with political implications in our scripture readings today. In the reading from 2 Samuel, we see David and the house of Israel dancing with all their might before the Lord as they bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. There is so much going on in this passage that I can’t even begin to unpack it all, and the lectionary reading even leaves out some of the most interesting parts of the Ark’s journey and arrival.

What I’m interested in this morning is the overall symbolism of the Ark’s trip and David’s dance. When we read the story here, it seems like David is dancing out of joy that the Ark is coming to Jerusalem. Our immediate assumption is that David is dancing as an act of praise and
worship to God, that David’s dance is an expression of thanksgiving for God’s blessing. That’s entirely fair, and may be 100% correct. I wonder, though. One of the reasons I wonder is because of Michal’s reaction to the dance.

Michal and David have a history. Michal is Saul’s younger daughter. Michal loved David, and Saul gave her to David to be David’s wife. Later, when Saul had turned against David and wanted to kill him, Michal helped David escape. Now, however, Michal seems to have soured on David. There’s a lot more to Michal’s story that I’m not going into this morning, but there are a couple of possible reasons for her reaction. One of them is the reason she gives in our scripture reading – that Michal found David’s dancing to be vulgar, particularly in front of servant and slave girls. Another reason, though, is suggested by the Old Testament scholar Walt Brueggeman. In his commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel, Brueggeman writes that this whole “moving the ark” thing was a political act on David’s
part. Brueggeman says,

“Now, under David, in order to have access to the ark and to its old significance, even conservative Israelites with long memories and keen theological sensitivity must make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the new city with David’s new power and new ideology. They have nowhere else to go. To make contact with the ancient symbol, they must give tacit assent to the new royal apparatus.”

The move of the ark to Jerusalem signifies once and for all the end of Saul’s rule and the cementing of David’s, and in the next chapter of 2 Samuel we will read about God making a covenant with David to establish David’s house forever.

In Mark it’s a little different. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t start out with Joseph and Mary and the manger. It starts with John the Baptist, in the wilderness, preaching about repentance. Jesus comes to John to be baptized, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove, and Jesus becomes the focus of the story. Then we get here to Mark 6, and there’s a little bit of a flashback. Jesus and the disciples are travelling around and word of Jesus’ ministry gets back to Herod. And what is Herod’s first thought? “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” This is the first time we learn that John is dead. The story is straightforward. Let me say this is a different Herod than the King Herod in the stories of Jesus’ birth. This Herod divorces his wife and marries his brother’s wife. John calls this out as sin. Herod’s wife, Herodias, wants John executed, but Herod knows that John is a holy man, and he kind of likes John. John makes Herod think, and we all need people who make us think, and Herod likes listening to John, so Herod has John imprisoned. The power of the dance, however, is too much. This time there’s nothing political about the dance itself. It’s just a dance that speaks to Herod in an extraordinary way, such that he makes a very foolish promise – that he will give the dancer, Herodias’ daughter, whatever she wants. The daughter consults with her mother, and asks for John’s head on a platter.

Our Gospel reading ends in a way that foreshadows what is yet to come for Jesus. Verse 29 says, “When (John’s) disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.” That sounds familiar, doesn’t it. Whatever was in David’s heart when he danced, there were political
considerations to his journey with the Ark to Jerusalem. There was probably nothing political in Herod’s heart as he watched the daughter’s dance, but that dance still led to an act of political violence as the government killed a prophet of God for the crime of having offended the
wife of the king with the truth of their sin. David’s dance leads to God’s covenant which establishes David’s line forever, a line that leads directly to Jesus. John’s death foreshadows Jesus’ death on the cross, with his followers tenderly laying his body in a tomb. So over time David’s dance leads through Jesus to death on the cross, and then the re-establishment of David’s line through Jesus’ resurrection. For Christians, the journey is always towards resurrection, but there cannot be resurrection without a death. There is dancing, there is music, there is celebration, but it all means more than just the joy of the moment.

Our lives mean more than just whatever it is that we are going through, for good or for ill, at any time. Our lives are a dance towards death, towards the cross, but our lives are also a witness to the reality of new life, our faith in Jesus and his resurrection. Our lives are a dance, a dance that extends beyond the tomb to life eternal. Amen.

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