A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
The Big Dance
March 17, 2011
Each year, juxtaposed with the solemnity of Lent, this country celebrates “March Madness” in which 68 college teams are invited to the “big dance” of the three-week NCAA basketball tournament. Our own Pittsburgh Panthers are one of the tournament favorites to win the national title this year. Some of us will no doubt be doing some serious TV time over the coming weeks.
But that’s not the only big party afoot amid our Lenten journey. As you read this, the world will be celebrating one of the biggest global party days of the year – St. Patrick’s Day. Indeed, it is entirely appropriate to mark our journey with Jesus by feasting as well as by fasting.
According to John 2, Jesus began his ministry by attending a party, this one for a wedding. The wine ran out early, so Jesus made some more – some 120-180 gallons of it. That would be equivalent to 600- 900 standard bottles of wine. Some have suggested it was non-fermented – but why, then, did the steward say that this wine would have made the guests drunk had it been tapped earlier in the party?
Jesus had a reputation as a party-going guy, so much so that he was called “a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34) Many key scenes from his life, as related in the Gospels, revolve around party tables.
Two things stand out about these “Jesus parties.” First, they require company. Without company, there is no party. Jesus’ parties are always rich social events. Second, Jesus’ parties are extravagant. What party needs 600 or more bottles of wine, after all? A woman empties a flask of high-priced perfume on Jesus’ feet at another party. In one of his party stories, he has the host begging street people to come so they have a full house.
Little is known about the fifth-century priest Patrick who is credited with bringing the Gospel to Ireland, eventually becoming its patron saint. Still, observation of his feast day eventually became a celebration of all things Irish, and thus an occasion for a huge worldwide party amid the sober days of Lent.
But while we know little about the original Patrick, he is renowned as one of the earliest exponents of a rich doctrine of the Trinity. His famous hymn “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” opens and closes with the refrain, “I bind unto myself today the name, the strong name of the Trinity; by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.” Meanwhile, the desert fathers and mothers of the east were also talking about the mystery of the Trinity – not with static images like three-leaf clovers, but with exuberant dance metaphors. Imagine a dance, they said, where three partners are moving so fluently and seamlessly that their individual distinctions get melded into a single blur of motion. Imagine further, they continued, that suddenly you and I are drawn into this dance with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thus united with God and with one another in a celebration of life abundant. It’s a Jesus party – this kind of dance happens only in the company of friends, and it must be robust, even extravagant in its sheer abandon.
This is what we are called to be – a company of people drawn together into the extravagant love-dance of the Triune God, a God-intoxicated people caught up together in the joy of glorifying and fully enjoying God forever.
Forces of fragmentation are always hard at work among the people of God, and the present time in our denomination is no exception. Some see only further fragmentation in our future. But what if our future was shaped more by our being caught up in the company of the eternal dance, with the Triune God at the center? The difference may be just this: Are we more concerned about who’s at the center of the dance – that is, Holy Triune God – or about who’s on its fringes – that is, all the others who are getting in on the dance?
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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