Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace Lyons: “We Are Dancing Still.”

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Easter has a strange rhythm for me. As a child, I looked forward to wearing a new dress to worship and an egg hunt in the backyard. As a believer, I came to appreciate the deeper meaning of Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and our salvation. As a minister, I looked forward to worshiping with my congregation, planning special performances, and proclaiming the good news that Christ is risen. Though I wished I could be with my family on Easter morning, I cherished the rare opportunities my congregants had to worship with theirs.

This is my fourth Easter as a mother. My son was just a few months old for his first Easter, dressed in the most adorable blue gingham outfit, a gift from Pam Durso. That was my last Sunday at a church where I had been ministering for three years, a strange experience of loss and newness at Easter.

My family came to celebrate Easter with us the next year as well, and after a busy morning of leading worship, I treasured watching my son in his first egg hunt. He was delighted at the first egg he found. He studied it, showed it off to me and his grandparents, and would not put it down. I had to point to several other eggs before he caught on that there were many eggs to be hunted.

My son’s third Easter, I preached my first Easter morning sermon. My parents and grandmother came to hear me preach, and we enjoyed a special lunch at a nice restaurant in town after church. I remember my grandmother ordered cheesecake as her lunch, and I loved her for seizing the day. But it was also my first Easter divorced, and our visitation schedule worked out that my son was with his dad. It was the first time I remember Easter feeling unresolved.

This year, my son’s fourth Easter, was a blend of my childhood and our new life together. We attended church together, the first opportunity we have ever had to do so where I did not have a responsibility in the worship service. Then we joined my family for a meal in the house where I grew up, and Stanley hunted eggs in my old backyard. Even as we are beginning a new tradition for our family of two, I was able to share some of my childhood Easter memories with him. These bones shall live.

As I have pondered the rhythm of Lent, into Easter Sunday, and how this fits in the larger flow of the year, I feel a little off beat. For more than a year, life felt like one long journey of suffering on the way to more suffering, like Good Friday with no Sunday. There were good days and incarnational people, don’t get me wrong. But if you have ever gone through a season of grief, you know that it doesn’t always wrap up neatly for holidays. You sing and dance, but from the depth of your sorrow instead of elation. And sometimes when you sing and dance, you feel a majestic, unshakeable joy rising up within you, shooting out through your limbs, reminding you that the God in whom you hope has been and will continue to be faithful. And sometimes when you sing and dance, you feel nothing, but decide to keep hoping anyway.

Palm Sunday of last year was our first Sunday at what has become our new church home. “Hosanna, Hosanna, he comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, Hosanna, he comes in the name of the lord,” we sang as the children waved palm branches around the sanctuary. This year, my mother and grandmother came with us for Palm Sunday, and we sang “Hosanna” as the children waved palm branches. I realized, as my son and I walked hand in hand around the sanctuary waving and singing together, how far we have come this year. The weight of my grief has been cast off, and I have been made new. If last year was the journey to Jerusalem, this year has been the deliriously ecstatic sprint from the empty tomb to proclaim the good news that He is Risen! As I remember Christ’s resurrection, I feel my own. These bones shall live!

In our church bulletin on Palm Sunday, I saw a quote from Ann Weems: “Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week. It is a time for preparation…each of us must stand beneath the tree and watch the dying if we are to be there when the stone is rolled away. The only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday. Only then will the alleluias be sung; only then will the dancing begin.” My journey of unrelenting shadows had led me to Easter morning, and there would be singing and dancing. And this time around, I sang and danced with elation Christ has risen from the grave, and my heart was so full of joy and hope that I had to sing and dance about it! Alleluia!

Jan Richardson writes: “In the years to come I will learn how necessary it is to keep dancing, how celebration is not a luxury but a staple of life, how in the grimmest moments I will need to take myself down to the closest festival at hand. It will not do to drown my sorrow or to mask my despair or to ignore the real suffering of the world or of my own self. I will go to beat out the message with my feet that in the darkness we are dancing, and while we are weeping we are dancing; sending shock waves with our feet to the other side of the world, we are dancing still” (from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas).  

We have all experienced suffering or loss of some kind, and some of us have even hit the bottom of the barrel and been reborn from our own ashes. Thanks be to God that suffering and loss are not infinite. Thanks be to God that out of broken earth, flowers burst forth. Thanks be to God that dead bones live.

This Easter, whether you are in a season of mourning or celebrating, whether your heart is heavy-laden or fancy-free, whether you feel like an abandoned and hopeless disciple or witness to the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God around you, may you know the height and depth and width and breadth of Christ’s love for you. May your life be rich with dancing and singing, even if the best you can do is sing slightly out of tune and dance off pace. As you move to the rhythm of the music, celebrating the good news that Christ is Risen and death has been defeated, may you feel the resurrecting power of Christ in you and around you and through you. These bones shall live, indeed! Alleluia!

Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace Lyons is the proud mother of Stanley. She currently serves as Assistant Director of Student Success and Instructor of Religion at Baylor University. She holds an Honors B.S. in Computer Science Engineering from University of Texas at Arlington, an M.Div. from George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Church History from Baylor University. She is a member of Equity for Women in the Church and worships with her church family at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, TX. She and her son Stanley love to take walks, read stories, and ice skate together.

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