Dancing in remembrance

The performers in the hot sun are exuberant.

Yes, they’re young and fit, but the energy they’re expending – in this, their eighth or ninth session of traditional dancing on this hot Hawaiian day – seems superhuman. And they seem to be enjoying it. The men leap and stomp and slap their arms. The women glide, hips shaking, arms smoothly moving like flowing water.

They smile because they’re celebrating their Cook Islands heritage. My wife and daughter have accompanied me on this trip, and we’ve come to a popular cultural center to learn more about the Polynesian people.

The young performers are happy to share their culture with us -- and use the hefty entrance fee to pay for their college tuition at the nearby BYU campus.

Dance for Polynesian cultures (and, I would expect, for any people group that developed the art form) is more than just a celebration. It is a practice of group remembering – a kind of “touching base.” This is who we are. Or, in the case of the dance that acted out their process of netting fish: This is what we do.

It made me long for such a tradition in the church.

The Exodus, throughout the Bible, was a kind of touchstone for Israel. As I am meditating on their delivery from Egypt, it’s clear that God meant for it to be permanently engraved into their corporate memory. They didn’t dance it out, but they did reenact it every year during Passover.

And because of that, generations later, the psalmist, Asaph, was able to connect to the account of redemption in Psalm 77:

            [11] I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
                        yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

            [12] I will ponder all your work,
                       and meditate on your mighty deeds.

            [16] When the waters saw you, O God,
                      when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
                      indeed, the deep trembled.

            [17] The clouds poured out water;
                      the skies gave forth thunder;
                      your arrows flashed on every side.

            [18] The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
                      your lightnings lighted up the world;
                      the earth trembled and shook.

            [19] Your way was through the sea,
                      your path through the great waters;
                      yet your footprints were unseen. (ESV)

In a way, it’s a dance – a dramatic, almost terrifying, choreography of natural elements in response to God’s mighty power. Polynesians have their shaking hula hips. The ancient Hebrews had symbolic earthquakes and trembling waves.

Jesus gave us instructions to remember his death as the ultimate reenactment of Passover. When we take communion, we are corporately remembering our redemption from slavery to sin. Communion may lack the animation of a Cook Island dance, but it should be just as engaging. And just as connecting – both to the event and to each other.

Jesus said, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) We do so often in a somber mood – which is an appropriate self-examination of our sin before a righteous Savior.

But I’m wondering: shouldn’t we also be celebrating a risen King? Might there be some room in our recalling of such a mighty deed for some liveliness on our part?

Jesus deserves a little exuberance.

Lord, we want to remember and celebrate you. We want to live in constant connection to your mightiest of deeds: our redemption. Move us – if not in our bodies, at least in our hearts – to give you enthusiastic praise.

I’m always interested in what you, my readers, think. Drop me a comment! Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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