Lord of the Dance

Week of Sunday June 19 -  Trinity Sunday
Gospel: Matthew 28:16 -20

It is appropriate to read the whole of Chapter 28.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’

8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you (Emmanuel) always, to the end of the age.’

The lectionary  reading for this week is clearly chosen, along with 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, to highlight Trinity Sunday. Bill Loader highlights the temptation that faces us:

This is such an important text in the context of Matthew's gospel that there is a danger that its use on Trinity Sunday will lead to too much focus on its tenuous links with the Trinity, so I want to start with the passage itself. It has enormous significance as the climax of the gospel, drawing together major themes of the gospel.

In other words, we should read all of chapter 28 to hear what Matthew is saying, because  this is the climax and drawing together of the gospel.  The short lectionary excerpt for Trinity Sunday is not a “great commission” standing in isolation. Neither is it  not merely a proof of the resurrection. It is especially not a proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. It is Matthew’s final summary of the meaning and significance of this Jesus he has followed, and is writing about.

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Matthew sketches two contrasting communities in this chapter.

In the five verses preceding our lection, he mentions the community of guard, priests, elders, and soldiers--a community headed by the governor.

When Jesus is not in his tomb on Easter Sunday morning, the priests, after conferring with representatives of the ruling families of Jerusalem, bribe the soldiers to say that Jesus' body had been stolen by his supporters.  In return, they offer to cover the soldiers' butt when the governor finds out that Jesus' body is missing.  The community described in verses 11-15 is a community based in greed and lies.

Immediately following we are told of the new community of Jesus.  As he had told them to do, they are going to Galilee.  They are, however, "eleven," and not twelve.  One of the twelve, Judas, has committed suicide.  Even the new community has suffered loss and betrayal.  Yet, in spite of their "brokenness," the new community is obedient to Jesus' instruction to go to Galilee. John Petty

Luke carefully restores the Number of Disciples to 12 (Acts 1:12ff) as we have celebrated Ascension and Pentecost, so I had wondered about Matthew’s deliberate highlighting of the Number 11. I like Petty’s exegesis. It addresses the brokenness, the inadequacy, and the fear I feel as a disciple and member of the new community.  In spite of our brokenness we are still able to go to Galilee.

We can go to Galilee because that going is not an historical event. It is Matthew’s symbol of how we broken folk may  live as The New Community.

To use Petty’s language, to be in Galilee is to be part of the new community. Let me explain.

Why does not Jesus simply appear to the male disciples in Jerusalem? That is where he appears to the women. We are being directed to wonder about the meaning of Galilee.  As I noted in a previous posting, Galilee was where Jesus did most of his teaching. Galilee was the place of the ordinary people. Galilee is a symbol for Jesus’ way of living. Galilee is contrasted to Jerusalem, the big city. Jerusalem belonged to the rich and powerful. It is a symbol for the lifestyle and the attitude which rejected Jesus; it is, in Petty’s language, the place of the governor.

Jesus’ message to the disciples, and to us,  I said, is that if you want to meet the risen Lord Jesus, then live the Jesus life. Be a Galilean, not a citizen of Jerusalem. Be his disciple. Follow his teaching.

I asked if this was too fanciful an idea, imagining something into the text, and noted that the story continues by saying ...the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. Nothing was said to the women about a mountain. That’s a literary “wink” calling us to pay attention.

Mountain in Matthew is the place of the Sermon on the Mount. It is on this mountain that Jesus meets the disciples after his resurrection.  When we stop and reflect on it, the message is plain: Live the way Jesus would live. Live his teaching. Live the Sermon On The Mount, which is the Beatitudes, Jesus’ Ten Commandments. That's when and where  you'll meet him.

Living out The Sermon On The Mount is a risky business. It is not easy. It costs. The risen Lord says “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” The immediate drama of the resurrection story implies that the fear Jesus is addressing is that of the women as they meet him. The wider context suggests to me that I should also  not be afraid of “living on the mountain,”  for there I am to meet the risen Christ, the one who says “Do not be afraid,” and in other places, “Peace be with you.”

We yearn for mountain top experiences.  There is one of those mountintop experiences in Matthew, for his  other mountain is the Mountain of the Transfiguration. But the  enduring mountain top experience comes from the new community, from living the beatitudes. These beatitudes are not rules. They are ways of being.

When we read Matthew like this, “The Great Commission,” which has sometimes  been enacted in shameful ways, is placed in a new, corrective light. It is no longer religious imperialism. It cannot be such.  How can a Christian, who lives— who embodies— the Sermon on the Mount, heap rules upon people, and disrespect them, and make light of their spirituality and religion? Going and telling and baptising, can only be an invitation to experience a new community, a new way of being. It has little to do with doctrine or belief. As my friend Tony says of Matthew 25, what we believe is irrelevant. What we do, and are, is what counts.

Schweizer’s Good News According to Matthew says it better than I.

It is not in the new preaching of the post Easter community but in the commandments he taught during his earthly ministry that Jesus will be present with his disciples... Fundamentally... this passage speaks less of the mission of the Christian community than of its life in discipleship, which is to be above all an example. (pp535)

Behold, I am with you. Fear not, I am with you.

Kai idou--And behold!  "I am with you"--ego meta humon eimi.  Note how "with you" is sandwiched between ego and eimi.  (Ego eimi is the "divine name," the Greek version of YHWH, the name of God.)  At Jesus' birth, Matthew had proclaimed that Jesus is "emanuel"--God with us.  Now, in Jesus' final proclamation to his disciples in Matthew, he asserts the divine name, but "with you" placed within the divine name itself.  We are within the very life of God. John Petty

It is somewhere here that I will make connections with Trinity Sunday when I preach this week. We are invited to join in, be part of the dance that is God. (Perichoresis) This is where Trinity comes alive.

Trinity is not arcane doctrine. The architecture of the Central Processing Unit in my computer, or in the one on which you read this article is arcane doctrine . It’s there, it works,  but it’s not relevant to you and me. All that matters is that it works. The theologians from Intel can worry about it... and good luck to them!

This is not Trinity. Trinity is something we are within.

My beloved bought tickets to the Soweto Gospel Choir for my birthday. Near the end of the night, they invited us to dance with them. (But please don’t do this up in the balcony, said the man!) We had been listening to glorious harmony and tapping and clapping all night. Now all of downstairs began to dance. Not mere observers from the balcony, we were in the dance. We were part of the show. People were out of themselves, and in something else. It was Divine!

This is the mountaintop experience. This is Divinisation. Living and being the Blessings of Jesus— being a beatitude person—  brings us into the Dance.  I know little of what I am writing, because Trinity is blind groping into the mystery of God.  And yet I do know. I am part of the new community. And it is far more profound than the joys of dancing with a gospel choir.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

 

Kathy Donley 15-06-2011
Andrew, There are many powerful thoughts in this First Impression. Your reflections on Galilee and the community of brokenness stirred up in me a desire to go to Galilee and to be an engaged member of that community, living out the Great Commission and the Sermon on the Mount. But what drew me to your website was the line about Trinity being something we are within. I hope that in your sermon you expand on that and on the dance image. The concept of Trinity has always been important to me, not because it was handed down for generations, but because of the idea that God is Being-In-Relationship. That God is fundamentally, inescapably, invested in relationship. When you say that we are within the Trinity, it makes that image even more powerful. Other dance images that come to mind as I read this -- the Great Round Dance of the Trinity from the patristic era and C.S. Lewis' Great Dance themes in some of the Narnia books. Thanks for sharing this. I hope you will also share the sermon. Kathy Donley Albany, NY

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