Partying – July 15, 2018
2 Samuel 6
So the “hair brained scheme” didn’t work out. It began at coffee after the 8:00am service last week when I learned more about the status of the World Cup and came to understand a Facebook post I’d seen earlier in the week. England had a chance to be in the final… this morning! Thus preparations and plans began to have a church party of a different kind of this morning… gathering around international competition, the community story of sport and communion of pancakes. We are an Anglican church, after all, and if England has a chance to win the biggest game of a competition that runs only every 4 years, well… it’s almost our duty to adjust our regular pattern of church to cheer and celebrate together. Alas… it didn’t work out that way, so here we, celebrating in our usual way.
How bittersweet it is to hear biblical stories today about parties. The Gospel story party also doesn’t turn out so well, depending on who you’re cheering for, so we’ll leave that one alone for today. But the party recounted in 2 Samuel is well worth some consideration. As a dancer, it’s one of my favourites, but much more than that, it is a rich story full of meaning on many levels.
2 Samuel 6 is sandwiched between 2 much larger literary units describing King David’s rise to power on the one hand and the story of his succession on the other. This chapter is one of only 4 describing his actual reign… shockingly little considering its importance in the life of Ancient Israel. Our story today of David dancing before the Lord in procession with the Ark of the Covenant is the first half of the theological heart of this critical moment in the life of God’s people. With chapter 7 next Sunday, we hear the theological justification of this critical transformation. Today we hear a story of the ritual enactment of the major social, political and religious revolution underway in the life of Ancient Israel.
Socially, there is a revolution underway from an essentially tribal social system to a monarchial one. David is not the first king but it is his reign that brings together the people of God into the united kingdom of Israel/Judah. Under Saul they were still a loose confederacy of smaller tribes and the transformation to being part of a kingdom instead is a significant one.
It is, of course, also a political revolution that solidifies David’s legacy as opposed to Saul’s. With the ritual action of processing the Ark of God into his new capitol city, recently re-named the “City of David,” King David establishes the beginning of his family’s dynasty, along with a new nation. The ritual of bringing the national God into a new royal city with great celebration and sacrifice is well attested to in the Ancient Near East. Think of Jesus’ grand entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate on Palm Sunday, and why it was such a potent political action.
The religious revolution connected to the social and political comes about because a new kingdom needs the legitimization that a national, centralized religion provides. Instead of disparate tribes worshipping at their local temples, processing the most important religious symbol of the time, Ark of the Covenant, into the new capital city ritually lives out their connectedness through their common worship and sacrifice. The whole extravaganza is capped off with a blessing before a good meal: “[King David] blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins.” Such extravagance communicates the abundance of the kingdom better than any financial report. Everyone can return home confident in the prosperity and success of this newly minted kingdom, authorized and supported by Yahweh. It is, without a doubt, a party with a purpose. It is a party that marks a social, political and religious revolution.
In the middle of it all, David dances before the Lord with the whole company of Israel. It is a ritual rite of passage for David himself, along with all the Israelite people. David dances his way from being a musician in Saul’s royal court, a military leader and contender for the crown, to being the king of a new national government. The people of Israel too dance their way from one state to another. They were living through tremendous changes to their social, political and religious lives and such change brings trauma, even when it’s wanted or needed change. A big party like the one we hear about today is one way of processing the trauma.
We are not, as scholar James Smith describes, simply “brains on a stick.” Our lives are a messy combination of our hearts, minds, souls and bodies. Each element needs to be attended to for us to thrive through all the changes and chances that life brings. We can try to resist being swept up in the flurry of the moment. We can cordon off our hearts and refuse to feel the pain and joy and confusion of transformation, thereby refusing to be transformed at all. We can retreat into our heads, but in the end, we can’t think our way through transformation. If this biblical story tells us anything, it is that we need to let loose every so often, and most particularly in times of upheaval. A close study of the musical instruments mentioned in this passage reveal that the party in today’s passage was a particularly wild one. Not one that strictly, or in any way, adhered to later standards of dignity and propriety. We know this in part because the later writers of Chronicles cleaned up the story to make it a more appropriate liturgical celebration. But this story is a wild one. It doesn’t hold back the full force of emotive experience and as such, perhaps it offers us the freedom and challenge to do likewise.
Like the Ancient Israelites, we too experience trauma due to the intense social, political and religious changes all around us, all the time. The pace of it seems to increase each year. Time just keeps on trucking along and sometimes it feels hard to keep up. Many of these changes we can’t stop, even if we want to. Some transformations we yearn for… peace in the world, the end of hate and bigotry, decreasing political vitriol, increasing sense of the common good. And then there are the personal transformations we seek: a smaller waistline, reconciled relationship with a family member or friend, a change in a job or volunteer commitment. Whatever transformation is knocking, unbidden, at the door of your heart, or whatever transformation has come, like it or not, or whatever transformation you yearn for, it is ritual, spiritual practice that gets us through the chaos. Prayer of all sorts. Walking a labyrinth. Silent contemplation. Communal worship. Meditating on scripture. These quiet yet heartfelt practices are the locus of divine connection. And so is singing and dancing with abandon. So is eating and drinking with friends. The key is this: we need to include all our parts – heart and mind and soul and body – to be transformed. Transformation involves all of us. If everything isn’t involved, it’s not truly transformation. And God yearns to transform us…. to transform our hurts into healing… to transform our pain into joy… to transform our dis-ease into peace… if only we let God’s Spirit do her work, through every means necessary.
Without England in it, it didn’t seem appropriate to go on with that particular party today. But we trust that another opportunity will come along. In the meantime, our celebration continues in its regular fashion… in prayer and in praise; in story and in song; in bread and wine; with coffee and Timbits in abundance. May these rituals, familiar as they are, serve to bring about little transformations in our souls and in our community, week by week, that we may live in to God’s grand purposes for us all.