From 2 Samuel: David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. I am not sure that this procession was any more grand than the celebration that took place at St. Stephen’s this week. Vacation Bible School was a celebration on a grand scale, only without lyres and harps and death and burnt offerings. We had no untouchable “ark,” but very touchable puppets and crafts and theatre attire. Our children and helpers gathered in family groups on pillows and blankets; learned that Jesus is the light of the world and the joy in our hearts.
We were well fed in snacks and in the gospel. We finished the week with water games, made funnier when soaking wet children ran into the church to get out of the rain. Then we cleaned. And rested. And I hope that, while the decorations are gone, that the light of Jesus is not; that we remember gospel joy in many moments, in many places. The light, as we learned, is not meant to be hidden.
It is hard to go from the “high” of this past week to Mark’s telling of the beheading of John the Baptizer. We had a little respite of the world this week; Mark dumps us back into the world. Perhaps Mark wants us to take seriously the way of the world; that there is anger, envy, jealousy, and unspeakable horrors. So too, are there costs for being a disciple. Proclaiming Christ, celebrating God, is not always part of a grand celebration. Sometimes being a Christ-follower is very hard work; at the least, it may be weird or unpleasant. At what we envision at its worst, we could follow in the history of martyrs.
Where is the happy ending? Clearly, it is not in this passage from Mark. But really, it is there, buried, maybe, under the gruesome details of this story. Notice that Jesus is not mentioned in this story. Take a look – some will say that Jesus is not there. Others say, oh, yes, Jesus is there. How so?
Jesus is in this story in the form of gospel promise and hope. David Lose writes that: We believe, teach, and confess that Jesus came to make possible for us more than mere survival, more than mere persistence, more even than mere success. Jesus came to help us to imagine that there is more to this life than we can perceive. Jesus came to offer us not just more life, but abundant life. Jesus came so that there could be a better ending to our stories and the story of the world than we can imagine or construct on our own.
And when the Temple has just been destroyed, or your marriage is ending, or you’ve lost your job, or you fear your child will never speak to you again, or you’re pretty sure your friend has betrayed you, or you think you may just have screwed up the one relationship that meant something to you…then the possibility of another ending — a good ending — is, indeed, not just good news, but the best news you can imagine….As honest as Mark wants to be about the story of the world, he wants even more to testify to the story of God’s great love for the world.
(David Lose, workingpreacher.org, 7/14/12)
It is with Jesus that there is a happy ending – not to one piece of history, but to history and to creation and reconciliation in God’s time. Our individual stories are painful; Jesus is present to give us life – again, and over and over until we see Him face to face. Jesus changes everything.
With songs and joy and love, we danced before the Lord.