Mourning Into Dancing (Sermon for 6-6-2010)

Have you ever paid attention at a wedding dance as the new couple glides across the dance floor?// Have you ever observed a child dance exuberantly as part of a dance team?// Have you watched an elderly couple who have been married for a long time dance together?// Growing up there was just something special about watching my grandparents move across the dance floor. As I watched them, I saw pure joy captured across their faces.// But how do we capture that joy in the midst of pain, grief, despair, and sadness?// In other words, how does God turn out mourning into dancing?//

In today’s gospel text, the widowed woman in Nein which is five miles NE of Nazareth is grieving the loss of her one and only son.// Jesus arrives with his disciples and tells her to stop weeping. These are not the words she wants to here. In all actuality, they are the very last words she wants to hear!// But then something unexpected happens.// Jesus brings her son back to life.// I can’t even begin to imagine what this woman felt when her only son was suddenly alive again because of Jesus’ actions.// Because of Jesus’ actions, it seems that she is able to turn her mourning into dancing. Her tears of pain suddenly become tears of joy!//

Even though Jesus brings the widow’s son back to life, we realize that Jesus doesn’t resurrect every day. Throughout our lives, we still grieve.// We still encounter obstacles in our own lives.// We have a hard time turning our mourning into dancing especially when life throws obstacles at us that we don’t expect! Maybe it is an unexpected death, an unexpected diagnosis, or whatever life may throw at us!// The reality is that God doesn’t resurrect people every day. Yet God truly does help us heal and turns our mourning into dancing.// God’s role continues to be that of healing and restoration for all God’s people.// God loves and cares for each of us!//

Well-known author and theologian Henri Nouwen in his book Turn My Mourning Into Dancing writes, “We still ache in grief when death visits those we love or flinch when it approaches us, of course. We will suffer in many ways. But our pangs will be more like labor pains that bring new life. That bring into our world a new life. Facing death allows us to experience that life in a way our denial never can permit. Inviting God into our grief will mean we will never walk alone.// In all actuality, God has the ultimate power over death.

Almost two years ago, my cousin LeAnn was faced with death when her first child died after nearly 6 months of life. In the midst of her pain, LeAnn felt God walking with her. She knew that she was not alone. And almost a month ago, she felt God with her as she gave birth to her second child; a son, Jack Elliott.// Then this past January my friend Renee unexpectedly lost her husband Ben in the Haiti earthquake. Since Ben’s death, Renee and the rest of Ben’s family have not walked alone. God has and continues to walk with them in the midst of the pain and will eventually turn their mourning into dancing.// How have you felt God walking with you in the midst of your own grief?// In all our grief, God helps us turn our sorrow into joy, our grief into celebration, and our mourning into dancing.//

When our mourning is finally turned into dancing, we move from being lamenters of God to praising God’s name realizing that God truly does have the ultimate power over death.// I am reminded of the words of Ben Larson’s song “Mourning into Dancing” based on Psalm 30.// He writes, “You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have taken my sorrows and clothed me with joy so that my soul may praise and not be silent, may praise and not be silent.// Oh Lord my God I will give you thanks forever!”// God truly does take away our sorrows allowing us to once again feel joy!//

Nouwen writes, “The hardships we all endure require more than words, of course, even spiritual words.// Eloquent phrases cannot soothe our deep pain.// But we do find something to lead and guide us through.// We hear an invitation to allow our mourning to become a place of healing, and our sadness a way through pain to dancing.// We learn to look fully into our losses, not evade them.// By greeting life’s pains with something other than denial we may find something unexpected. By inviting God into our difficulties we ground life—even its sad moments—in joy and hope.”//

I’m compelled by Nouwen’s words.// This past January on a Wednesday morning as I sat with my small group at the Diaconal Ministry Formation Event, we strained our ears to listen to one of Ben Larson’s songs as they rose out of the computer speakers. As we listened to Ben’s words, we found ourselves reflecting on how he was missing in Haiti.//

Then Thursday morning, I was awakened by the ring of my cell phone by Shera; one of my small group members and also a student at Wartburg Seminary.// Something within me knew that death was near.//And my fears were confirmed when Shera came to my door and told me that Ben was now confirmed dead.// I don’t remember much about that day but what I do remember is Ben’s version of Psalm 30 playing as a prelude as everyone gathered for our last worship together.// Since January, I often find myself listening to Ben’s version of Psalm 30.// In the midst of death, Ben’s words have brought me (and many others) peace allowing his words to come to life; allowing our mourning to be turned into dancing.”//

When we finally are able to move from mourning into dancing, God opens our hearts to move from grief to celebration and from sorrow to joy.// In the words of Henri Nouwen, “We can ultimately find a healing that lets our wounded spirits dance again, that lets them dance unafraid of suffering and even death because we learn to live with lasting hope.// Confronting our death ultimately allows us better to live. And better to dance with God’s joy amid the sorrowing nights and the hopeful mornings.”// Therefore come and dance knowing that weeping may come for the night but joy comes in the morning. Amen!//

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