David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might.

 It’s a rough day for the ladies in our lectionary. We’ve got one woman giving her Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 2.02.23 PM.pnghusband the What For in our first lesson, and another seeking the head of John the Baptist. According to songwriter Leonard Cohen, Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken alleluia. Cohen drew inspiration from the life of King David for his great anthem Alleluia. [1]  And as our first reading today reminds us, Love is not a victory march. The Way of the Cross comes with the same reminder. We’re here to sing our broken alleluias and put our trust not in our glory or our victory, but in the glorious victory of God.

It’s worth remembering: in the Christian tradition, Alleluia is a word said at the grave. A word said in the wake of loss. And the victory there is not our own.

We live in a time that needs the consolation of alleluias. And yet it’s not a consolation we come to standing up. It’s on our knees we welcome the consolation of broken things. Today, in the Book of Second Samuel, we arrive in a world of broken things to meet David dancing before the Ark. It’s a passionate moment: the triumphant king whirling before the Ark, risking his own dignity before God and everybody.

This story means to carry you in procession with David whirling his way home. The Battle King now yearns to come home to safety and security and peace. It’s what we all want at home. His effort to bring the Ark to Jerusalem carries with it the hope that God will bless forever and ever David’s own household and his reign. For now, he’s overcome his rivals. King Saul is dead. And what remains of Saul is his daughter Michal, who happens also to number among the wives of David. They haven’t seen each other for years. Her existence understandably complicates the hope of peace. Reconciliation is always complicated.

If you’ll notice, while the whole house of Israel dances with David, his wife Michal stands apart in a window. If not for that window piercing this story, David’s dance would ring unbroken. Unquestioned. But by way of this window, we know there are other ways of telling the story. Other perspectives. And the presence of other perspectives has a way breaking down your own. Or at least complicating it.

Perspective is a funny thing. It muddies the water. Fortunately the author of Second Samuel has the grace to give Michal a window. Michal, you see, loves David. It might not sound like it, but she does. According to Robert Alter, she’s the only woman in the whole Bible to ever explicitly name that she loves a man, and that man is David.[2] They married when her father Saul was still King: Michal for love, David for power. And when her father eventually decided to get rid of David, she rescued him through a window.

And by way of that window, the story of David found a way to grow and prosper. Today, though, she speaks through another window, a window of narrowing hope. And through it, her words are harsh wounded wounding words. Though they’ve been separated for years, they share a sad history of unbearable loss. The air in this whole story is shot through with terrible longing for the presence of God to come and make sense of all the damage.

And breathing that same air, David knows it’s a dangerous idea to use the Ark. He knows how the ancient Israelites hauled it into battle in the hope of gaining God’s favor, and knows God would have none of that. He knows the Philistines captured it and tried to haul it into their battles only to meet defeat as well. And he also knows that when he sent a man to move the Ark to Jerusalem, the Ark grew unsteady on its cart, and when the man put his hand on it to right it, he fell down dead.

This reminds us God is big, bigger than our own personal use or need of God. We build churches not to house God or confine God to one place or one people or one nation, but to name before God our own limitations. Churches give us an appointed place to confess our weakness for the mercy of God, an appointed place to open our hands and receive the gifts of God given for the people of God.

We cannot control or manipulate God. Which may explain why David dances before the Ark, as if in dancing he might forget himself for a moment, might actually lose control and lower himself enough to remember the only triumph that matters is the mercy of God. If you stand outside his procession into Jerusalem, you may mistake his dance for a victory march. And if you do, you might miss a man aiming to repent, aiming to glorify not himself, but God.

The trouble is Michal stands outside the procession. She’s not a part of where David is heading. She’s housed — stuck — in the window, already half exiled from his life. All she can see is what looks like a man in triumph. And that triumph marks the defeat of her father and her family. The Lectionary lets us know she despised David, but stops short of telling us how she greeted him that day.

So, to remind you: When David went home that day, Michal left her window to greet him and said, Wow, didn’t the king do honor today—exposing himself in the sight of slave girls! Like riffraff. And he answered, God chose me instead of your father and all your brothers. I’ll dance before the Lord and dishonor myself even more, and lower myself in my own esteem. But those slavegirls you mention, they’ll honor me.

Because the Bible has the grace to include both sides of their quarrel, neither one comes out the victor. It’s tempting to hear only her bitterness. It’s there. But if a yearning for God informs the dance of David, it might also inspire the words of Michal. She, too, might want to see David repent before the Lord, might want to bring him down enough to become his true self again. Not God. Not King. Not even Man. But a fellow Child of God. And oddly enough, though he means to hurt her, his own words suggest he knows she’s right about him. He will indeed dishonor himself even more than he has already. And he will sound his broken alleluias again and again, seeking the mercy of God.

There will be no child between them. Michal falls away now, never to be heard from again in the Bible, while David moves on without her. Among the hidden gifts of this story is the reality of multiple perspectives, of more than one way to see. Forgiveness and reconciliation depend on hearing each other. We’ve all told stories that silence the people we’re talking about or to; stories that aim for our own victory marches. But there are other windows in our stories, other ways of seeing than our own. And it’s a good idea to include them when we tell our side of things.

Love is not a victory march. Love is losing your self enough to look for God in the stories of other people. When the Israelites set the Ark in its place, they all went home, each to their own house. Each to their own story. The hope is they woke up ready to understand each other in the morning.

That’s where this reading aims us today: toward home, and the hope of God’s peace surpassing our understanding — even there God’s victory overtaking our own.

 


[1] My favorite cover of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia is the work of K.D. Lang, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_NpxTWbovE&index=1&list=RDP_NpxTWbovE

[2] Robert Alter, The Story of David, a translation with commentary of 1and 2 Samuel, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999, 115. Here Alter reflects on 1 Samuel 18:20, “And Michal the daughter of Saul loved David”; in Alter’s words, “she is the only woman in the entire Hebrew Bible explicitly reported to love a man.” I incorrectly said she herself explicitly names her love for David, but surely the author’s exceptional reporting relies on her standout witness to her own feelings.

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