Summary: There is joy in losing things because ultimately you find them! We, like the elder brother, do not even know what we are missing by not experiencing conversionsn, nor are we in touch with everyday grace. Celebrate! (Congregation invited to sing, severa
If we are infected with the spirit of the elder brother, we get anxious when somebody does come home. We get uncomfortable when a heart is deeply touched and tears flow or laughter rings out or bodies shake. The Shakers sang about this in “Lord of the dance.”
I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame, the holy people said it was a shame; they whipped and they stripped and they hung me high, and they left me there on the cross to die. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
Oh, I hope you have the urge to dance. I hope you have heard the music and the laughter. Have you not felt something when brothers and sisters do come home? I shall always remember the dance in this very room. I shall always remember those who have stumbled down this aisle, their bodies shaking with tears, for they had experienced so great a salvation. The whole body wanted to get involved. I shall not soon forget those who have fairly run from their seats, eager to come home. The whole self wanted to dance and to sing. I shall always cherish the memory of men and women that many of us had given up on, but who eagerly presented themselves before God, coming home. I cannot speak for you, but I know that I have wanted to sing, I have wanted to dance, I have wanted to run up this aisle to meet them. I have wanted to rejoice, because my brother, my sister, has been found and is coming home.
It is too bad if we have to inquire what the fuss is all about; it is sad indeed if our only response is to worry that this is taking too long. Never mind the time! There is a party going on, with music and dancing! Never mind the delay; when your brother or your sister comes home, there are no other priorities. Dance and sing! And even if you didn’t know you had lost anything, you had. You had. Nevertheless, what was lost has been found. So dance and sing!
Too bad that the elder brother was so removed from the cries of others’ hearts that he didn’t even recognize the song and the dance when he heard it. Too bad that he didn’t know that it was as much for him as it was for his brother.
In truth, the elder brother hasn’t come to the party because he is out of touch with how much grace he himself receives day by day. The elder brother refuses to sing and doesn’t want to dance, because he has normalized the father’s overflowing love. The elder brother’s life is so predictable, so even keel, that he has forgotten what grace is. The elder brother’s response to the great feast, the music and the dancing, is a little like one of my childhood birthday parties. I’m told that when I turned six years old, my mother said I could have a party and I could have whatever I wanted for refreshments. The story is that I ordered up chocolate cake, with chocolate icing, topped off by chocolate ice cream. Well, they said, all that chocolate was so abundant that I couldn’t eat it, and during the party I pushed my plate aside and asked if there was any vanilla in the kitchen! God gives us such abundance that we forget to celebrate it. We are out of touch with the fact that it’s grace.