Dance in the Graveyards

The past month or so, I have been witness to communities mourning and grieving.  I wrote this sermon for my preaching class last year.  It is about Psalm 30 and the way in which I have fought and argued and danced around death with my God. I encourage you to listen to the following song, and then read the text.  It will all make sense, my friends.  I pray that you find some strength and hope in these words.

Delta Rae – Dance in the Graveyards

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,

   and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,

   and you have healed me.

3 O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,

   restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,

   and give thanks to his holy name.

5 For his anger is but for a moment;

   his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may linger for the night,

   but joy comes with the morning.

6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,

   “I shall never be moved.”

7 By your favor, O Lord,

   you had established me as a strong mountain;

you hid your face;

   I was dismayed.

8 To you, O Lord, I cried,

   and to the Lord I made supplication:

9 “What profit is there in my death,

   if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise you?

   Will it tell of your faithfulness?

10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!

   O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;

   you have taken off my sackcloth

   and clothed me with joy,

12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.

   O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

There is one conversation in my life I wish to never have again.  I was sitting at the Salvation Army building in Roanoke, Virginia.  I was there for a work conference and my phone started to light up.  I looked at my phone and my friend asked me if I had heard the news about Chris.  Chris was a friend I had made through our mutual love of a band.  We were as close as two long-distance friends could be.  We were constantly checking on each other, encouraging and supporting one another.  So when I saw that text, I was unsure what to think.  No, I hadn’t heard any news about Chris.  It turns out that in the early morning hours, Chris lost control of his car and died when he hit a tree.

No one ever wants to be the friend to break tragic news.  I remember the tingling feeling that washed over my body.  I remember calling my mum and not being able to piece together sentences.  I cried.  I cried so hard that my body didn’t know how to respond appropriately.  Oh my goodness, I wish there was a way to accurately portray just how angry I was at God.  I wish I could describe the bitterness that filled me for so long.

I read Psalm 30 and I think to myself, “How can this person praise God in the midst of hurt”?  How can God provide healing?  If God ignores the pleas of my heart, why was the Psalmist granted the pleas of their heart?

What we learn in the opening of the Psalm is that we are dealing with someone who was sick.  This person was all alone, they had no friends.  In fact, their friends thought that the illness was caused by something they had done to upset God.  They were brought out from the place of the dead, they were healed.  They were rescued.

So why aren’t our loved ones always rescued? Often times I cling to the hope that God is going to provide earthly healing.  I pray that my family and friends who have gone on before me were still here.  That I could go to my Granny’s house and see my Uncle Jimmy sitting at the kitchen table deciding which horse he was going to bet on.   I want to be able to run in my neighborhood at home and see my friend from youth group playing in his yard with his wife and daughter.  I want to be able to dance with my family and friends.

The Psalmist shares their story with us.  The questions they had for God.  Questions that we still have today.  What good does it do for us to die?  If we are in the place of the dead, will the earth tell of God’s faithfulness?  The narrative of the Psalm is the internal struggle of this person.  They share their struggles with God.  How they’ve angered God.  What are the things that we do that anger God?

What about when God shows us favor?  We may cry out to God in the midst of our hurt, but the pain is only temporary.  Joy is always just around the corner.  In the words of the band Delta Rae “all of us, we’re meant for the fire, but we keep rising up and walking the wires”.  When we feel like God has given up, when we feel like there is no hope, God raises us up from the depths.  From the pit of our own despair.

Much like the Psalmist, when God shows me favor, I want to dance.

Dance? Really?  She wants to dance?

One afternoon I was at a stoplight and I could hear a car horn relentlessly beeping.  I looked over and saw my friend Steven sitting there.  I rolled my window down and he said “nice moves”.  Nice moves?  What?  I realized he had caught me dancing in my car.  Dancing in the car is one of my favorite ways to tune out and just be.  A way for me to find joy in the midst of long drives.

In fact, as a child, I was often caught dancing.  My granny loves to tell a story about how one night she got up and pulled my mum into the front room because a song had come on on the television and I jumped up and just started to dance.  In that moment I had no worries.  In that moment, I was recklessly abandoning all of those things that were weighing me down.

That still happens now.  I dance in my car for that rush of endorphins.  I dance in my car because the happiness pours out of me.  

The Psalmist has turned their crying into delight.  Their soul no longer cries out in pain.  They have experienced healing.  They dance with joy.  The song we listened to earlier sums up Psalm 30.  We don’t have to be alone in dealing with hurt.  We don’t have to mourn the ones we have lost, we are to celebrate their lives.  We are to dance in the graveyards with them.  We have a hope because like the Psalmist our souls praise God for our healing.  We dance with joy.  We share in the hope of sharing in this life and the next life with our loved ones.  We belong to all of the mysteries of God.

We are called, like the Psalmist to remove our funeral clothes and to take on joy.  To take on love and a spirit of healing.

Let us pray:

God of healing and wholeness, we come with thanksgiving in our hearts for all the evidence of your goodness and mercy – found not only in stories of old, but in lives today.  Lives bruised with tragedy find consolation when touched by your gracious Spirit;  lives scarred with suffering and rejection have hope renewed through the power of the living Christ.  We praise and adore you for hearts and lives transformed by your grace and mercy and we pray that our lives will reflect your great acts of kindness. Arouse in us we pray, a love like yours so that we reach out to this wounded and troubled world with the compassion of Christ, proclaiming the gospel with integrity to friends and strangers alike. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen..  

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