Turning Mourning into Dancing Again

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

June 30, 2024: Pride Sunday

Scripture: Psalm 30

It is fitting that we read a psalm on Pride Sunday. In the Psalms, our spiritual forebears have bequeathed us a guide and permission to articulate and make public our private, internal fears, doubts, pain, suffering, joys, hopes, and praises with the confidence that God hears, responds, and promises to be faithful to us in our airing of it all. That’s why one theologian could see reading the Psalms as facilitating the journey of the life of faith, a way of praying into wholeness (Denise Hopkins). The Psalms give testimony to the full experience of life, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the failures and successes, and the many ways we cope and confront all of it faithfully and hopefully. Faith and hope are palpably alive in the liturgy of the Psalms because God is present through it all.

There is an all-purpose flavor to this praise poetry where each psalm can alternate between being expressed by an individual or as a communal act of devotion. That’s why Psalm is appropriate for Pride Sunday: the LGBTQ community steps out in full view to celebrate and express love and liberation even as it protests, memorializes the dead, and pursues justice. At a time of backlash and renewed political and religious attacks against LGBTQ people, perhaps with the words Psalm 30 in our minds, it is time for us to revisit the idea and practice of Pride; this attempt by a people on the margins to become practicing communities of love, meaning, and justice.

While there is no record of who actually may have penned or recited Psalm 30, it appears to be the devotion of an individual who experienced a period of crisis, a crisis of health or life in which death seemed the likely outcome, maybe an actual end of life crisis or possibly social or spiritual death. But the author is now on the other side of that disorienting experience and offers this psalm of praise, extolling God for God’s grace, help, healing, and restoration. The psalmist can look back with complete clarity to see how precarious their situation was when they cried in pain and dismay at where they were. During those dark and dismaying times, the psalmist wondered if God was angry with them, if God had abandoned them, or if God had failed to make good on God’s promises. But God responded with grace and help. God restored life and health. The language of this devotion reveals the posture of one who is compelled to praise and dance “when joy breaks through despair” (Brueggemann). The psalmist cries out in devotional witness, “God has drawn me up . . . God has brought up my soul . . . Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning . . . God has turned my mourning into dancing.”

But the psalmist is not interested in rejoicing and dancing alone. This praise, joy, and dancing don’t have to be done just by an individual. This psalm also invites others to reflect on how God’s favor has manifested in their lives and join in on the praise, celebration, and dancing. Let God’s previous show of covenant loyalty and demonstration of love, grace, and mercy prompt a response of joy and dancing. Through tears of joy and memory, I can hear the psalmist saying how they made it over in the words of a perennial favorite song of Pride celebrations, “Come on, get up everybody, and dance!”

So, in many ways, LGBTQ Pride vividly illustrates the praise the psalmist offers in Psalm 30. Reflecting on Psalm 30 with people who have known exclusion and diminishment, death, and violence gives us insight into the layers of meaning and experience that may not be visible in the cavalcade of music, dancing, and rainbows displayed at Pride. The psalm gives voice to the testimonies of LGBTQ people. The LGBTQ community has known the long, dark night of pain and suffering. The LGBTQ community knows what it means to weep all night. How do I know?

I can tell you who will be present at the Pride parades, festivals, and events. I can tell you who will be rejoicing and dancing even through their tears: Those who have been rejected and abandoned by their families, communities, and churches because they are LGBTQ; those who carry the trauma of the violent deaths of their friends because of their gender identity or expression; those who carry the trauma and memory of those who died of AIDS; those living with HIV and the stigma still attached to the diagnosis; those who are still hiding parts of themselves from their families and friends; those who have an addiction because the only relief they could find from the hate and rejection came through abuse of deadly substances; those who are in recovery from addiction; those survivors of dangerous conversion therapy imposed on them by their churches and families; those who are coping with the injustice of our legal system because of their sexual orientation or gender expression; and those who have known only unconditional love of family and community. They will all gather at Pride, carrying the memory of pain and struggle even as they testify to the power of love, grace, mercy, and beloved community. They will embody the song of the psalter, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning . . . God has turned our mourning into dancing.” They will hear the clarion call of the parade, “Come on, get up everybody, and dance!”

Too often, churches, preachers, and even the media usually pit religion against the LGBTQ community. Let us avoid separating the theological from the cultural, social, and anthropological. God is present at Pride; the Holy Spirit moves through Pride. We must not overlook the fact that the LGBTQ community, like any other group, continues to seek meaning and purpose. The people’s prayers for life, liberty, safety, and happiness are no less valid. Too many religious voices seek to deny or ignore it, but LGBTQ Pride is filled with religious and spiritual expression and representation. Pride may be a model for others of what it looks like to be a community of praise, what it could mean to take the opportunity to be public, intentional, and explicit in displaying joy and celebration of love, unity, and solidarity in a world more likely to be tribal, divided, and violent. So, I’ll take Psalm 30 as a devotional rubric for engaging Pride as a joyous celebration of answered prayers for love, life, and community.

I want to be clear that this is not a shallow appeal to praise that encourages people to deny or ignore the reality of pain and suffering or a nod to the power of positive thinking. [As one commentator said to keep us planted on firm ground, “the danger of praise without lament is triumphalism, and the danger of lament with praise is hopelessness” (J. Clinton McCann)]. Many people celebrating Pride this weekend will leave that place of joy and dancing, affirmation and inclusion, and celebration and recognition and return to unwelcoming churches, families, and workplaces. Many of our transgender siblings will leave the relative safety of the gathered community of Pride and return to the hostility of religious and public institutions and the ever-present threat of violence. Young LGBTQ people will leave the festival that embraced them unconditionally and surrounded them with safety and support and return to the presence of bullying in schools and social media. But for this moment, weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning . . . God has turned our mourning into dancing again. Amen.

9 a.m. service

11 a.m. service