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God’s Throwing a Cèilidh!


June 16, 2019 — First Sunday After Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

Rev. Alison Quin

Today’s Readings:

God’s Throwing a Cèilidh!

About 5 years ago, a friend asked me to co-officiate at his wedding in Scotland, right after Christmas.  We flew over and then drove up to his hometown of Cromarty—a small town north of Inverness on a peninsula known as the Black Isle.  The wedding was in a lovely old stone church in the center of town—with no central heat.  There were space heaters mounted on the walls, about 15 feet up, but since heat rises, they made absolutely no difference.  It was about 40 degrees in that church and we could see our breath.  But the wedding was lovely.

Afterward, we walked down the block to the town hall, which they had rented for their reception.  The reception was a Ceilidh.  Ceilidh is a Gaelic word meaning a gathering of friends—which now typically includes dancing and Gaelic folk music.   Ceilidh dances are group dances like square dancing or English country dancing.

This particular ceilidh was wonderful—most people there knew the steps to the dances—all ages danced, from 3-83. But even if you didn’t know the steps, someone would grab your hand and bring you in and a caller would guide you in the steps.  The party lasted for more than 8 hours with pauses for dinner and then a few hours later, sandwiches to keep everyone going.

The image of a joyful, dynamic group dance has long been used to describe the Trinity, which we celebrate today.  The Orthodox church uses the word perichoresis to describe the Trinity—which means to dance around.   The inner life of God is a never-ending dance of love among the three persons of the Trinity.

We see this divine dance in creation.  Living in this beautiful area, we are blessed to see it up close—the birds singing before dawn, the sun rising, the flowers opening, the insects buzzing—a constant dance of birth, growth, death and rebirth.

We are part of that divine dance, but as human beings, we fall out of step with it at times.  We become afraid to love in case we get hurt and we focus on staying safe and in control.   And then we no longer feel a part of the dance.

God became one of us, to remind us how the dance steps go.  Love with all your heart, give yourself away, don’t be afraid of pain or even death, because love wins, and the dance goes on forever.

The Holy Spirit is God’s active presence within us and all around us, renewing and continually welcoming us to join the Three in One in the cosmic dance.

The number three has mystical significance—many writers have written on that topic.  On a very practical level, three seems more inviting than two. If two people are talking together, or dancing, you are not likely to break in—unless you are actually trying to “cut in” and take the place of one of them.

But if three people are dancing or talking, it is easier to jump in—it seems much more like a community that is open to others.

Conceiving of God as a Trinity means that God is community.  And since we are created in God’s image, we are made for community too.  We are not complete when we try to go it alone.

I had a beautiful experience of community yesterday at the opening ceremony for the Pine Street African Burial Ground in Kingston.  The burial ground was used from 1750 to 1878, and then when the City of Kingston expanded, the land was sold to private owners and a house was built on it.  The burial ground was erased from the maps and from the memory of most people until about 30 years ago, when Kingston City historian Ed Ford discovered it on old maps.

Several times since then, people have tried to buy the property when it came up for sale so that it could be recognized as an historic site and honored as a burial ground. But they didn’t have the funds to do it.  Earlier this year, the land was put up for a foreclosure sale, and this time, two local organizations, the Kingston Land Trust and Harambee got together and organized a fund drive to buy the land.  Harambee is an organization that promotes African American culture, and education about African American history.  Harambee is a Swahili word meaning people coming together and that is exactly what happened with this burial ground.  Individuals, businesses, churches, non-profits and the Kingston and Ulster County governments all came together so the land and the house that sits on it could be purchased, just a few weeks ago.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Episcopal Churches in the Mid-Hudson got a grant from the diocese and were able to contribute $5500.

Yesterday was the opening ceremony honoring the hundreds of people – perhaps up to 1,000 or more – who are buried there.  Harambee and the Kingston Land Trust announced plans to make it a center for education and a memorial to the slaves and ex-slaves who helped build our community.   The ceremony was extremely moving—there was gratitude that people came together to make this happen, and also grief at the sin of slavery and the legacy of racism that continues to this day. It was a moment of hope and reconciliation—descendants of African Americans, Native Americans and Europeans came together to remember history and work together to repair the present and build a more just future.  It was indeed a moment of Harambee, of people coming together.  It was a community made in the image of God, diverse people with a united spirit, part of the divine dance of love.

It’s a beautiful dance—a dance of love, forgiveness, healing and joy.   It’s an eternal dance—it will never end.

You don’t have to know the steps—just to jump in. God is throwing a ceilidh!  Come and join in—let God lead you in the dance of forgiving, healing, loving and welcoming others. Let God’s love flow through you to others.  And by the way, there are sandwiches to keep you going long past midnight.


I’d like to close with a song from the 1960’s that many of you know.

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth:
At Bethlehem I had my birth.

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.

They cut me down and I leapt up high;
I am the life that’ll never, never die.
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me:
I am the Lord of the dance, said he.

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.



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