Constance Cherry: May I Have This Dance?

Constance Cherry, D.Min., is one of two professors for the DWS 702 course.

Constance-CherryI grew up in a pretty conservative household. It wasn’t radically fundamentalist or anything, but we did live by the standard behavioral codes most mainstream evangelicals held to at the time—no drinking, playing cards, or dancing. Movies were borderline. As a youth, I could follow the rationale behind the prohibition of drinking, but as for the problem with cards and dancing, well, I was at a loss. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a huge deal because it didn’t really affect me personally, that is, until a boy invited me to the prom. Suddenly the idea that Christians shouldn’t dance became very irrational. My budding gifts at logic were tested and found wanting, at least from my parents’ perspective. So after numerous attempts to challenge the “no dance rule,” the answer remained the same: “tell Randy thank you for the invitation, but we don’t dance.”

Thanks for the invitation, but we don’t dance. I wonder whether these same words aren’t often spoken by worshipers to Jesus Christ when he invites us to the dance—the dance of worship. There’s a dance in progress; it is the ongoing Trinitarian movement of mutual worship between Father, Son, and Spirit as the Persons of the Godhead celebrate their eternal relationship with holy abandon (perichoresis). The wonderful thing is that we are invited to the dance. Jesus Christ, our risen Lord, our high priest, and our true Worship Leader, invites us to join him in the dance of worship. As high priest (see Hebrews 7-8), he teaches us the steps, he converts our many voices into one voice, and he orchestrates the whole experience so that together, the Body of Christ with Jesus as its Leader, participates fully in relational worship to the glory of the triune God.

Yet so often we do not accept the invitation to the worship dance largely because we are so absorbed in our own, alternative views of worship. We think worship is about a program we put on for God. Or we think worship is about our own satisfaction and blessing. But these views of worship are a far cry from biblical worship that instead calls us to actively participate in Christ-centered worship. So how can we accept the invitation to the dance and participate fully with the One who invites us? Let me offer three words to help us increase our participation in Christ-centered worship: anticipation, incarnation, and resurrection.

Anticipate the real presence of Jesus Christ at worship. Hours before your arrival at the appointed time for corporate worship, contemplate actually encountering the risen Lord in community. He is truly present to both enable our worship and to receive our worship. How can anticipation of this reality lead to greater participation?

Here’s just one idea: involve artists trained in liturgical movement or children or choirs to enter the worship space in procession as the service begins. A simple thing, such as a processional, can build anticipation of meeting with Christ. The processional is rooted in the Old Testament practice of pilgrimage. Worshipers made pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times each year for high festivals of worship. As they approached the Temple, there was widespread singing, dancing, marching, playing of musical instruments, and more. The closer they got to the Temple the anticipation of meeting God certainly must have heightened. Anticipate a real meeting with Christ and you will participate in worship at a new level.

Embrace incarnational worship. Incarnation simply refers to that which does not have material substance taking on material substance. The unseen presence of Jesus in worship is manifested through the Spirit in the Body of Christ that is gathered to worship. Worship is incarnational when the Body becomes the means through which Christ is seen. How would our understanding of incarnational worship lead to greater participation in Christ-centered worship?

Here’s just one idea: begin to select your songs and prepare your words for prayers with the purpose of Christ singing through the community, Christ praying through the community to God. He is our high priest, after all. This is incarnational worship: when the unseen Christ is manifested through the worshiping community. Our participation will become more Christ-centered when we appreciate how our unseen Worship Leader perfects our songs, prayers, and actions, etc., as he offers these sanctified worship expressions to the Father on our behalf.

Recall the resurrection. The resurrection is the primary event of worship. We worship because Jesus lives. When the early church celebrated the Table of the Lord, they did so joyfully. This is because the last image on their mind was not the cross but the empty tomb. Our resurrected Lord is the central theme of worship. How would our recalling of the resurrection lead to greater participation in Christ-centered worship?

Here’s just one idea: start with the Table of the Lord. Begin to make a gentle shift toward celebration when inviting people to come to the Table. Remember that the bread and the cup represent not only Christ’s death, but also his triumph and his promise to come again. Gradually insert songs of celebration at the Table, preside at the Table with a warm smile, choose words that recall not only Jesus’ death but also his resurrection. The simple creed captures it well: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

There’s a dance in progress and we have been invited. I hope your response will be, “Thank you for the invitation. I’d love to participate.”

This article is the author’s adaption of her article that appeared in Worship Leader magazine (2011).

About the author

The Rev. Dr. Constance Cherry is Acting President of The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, Professor Emeritus of Worship and Pastoral Ministry, and Affiliate Professor at Wesley Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University. She is also a founding faculty member of The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, teaching DWS 702 every term since 2000.