You might not immediately think of this carol as one that belongs in your Church’s carol service, whether with the traditional tune, or in my favourite arrangement by John Gardner, which dances along with the words. The refrain seems to reflect feasting and merry-making, rather that the real Christmas story. But as I have rehearsed it and sung it with choirs over the years it’s changed for me from being the sort of carol which you might want to sing at a carol concert, to one which encapsulates the heart of the gospel.
You might be familiar with the words…
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play
To call my true love to my dance.
What on earth does that mean? What is the dance?
The dance is, I think, a picture of what the Revelation calls the marriage supper of the lamb – you can read about it in Revelation chapter 19:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
And again in Rev 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
You’ll remember perhaps another parable in Matthew where we are called to be ready for Jesus to return, as a Bridegroom for her husband. I’ve already written about that when we listened together to Bach’s cantata Wachet Auf on Day 2. It’s a recurring Advent theme.
So it’s clear that each of us, as part of the Church as a whole, is called to be the bride of Christ, and one day we will be united with Jesus at his second coming. That’s the dance that we are being called to – the dance of Jesus’ second advent when we will be with him for ever and those wonderful promises of Revelation 21 will be fulfilled.
But back to our song. The original song Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day has eleven verses, which tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. We’ll only hear the first four in this arrangement, but each concludes with the refrain.
Sing Oh! My love, oh! My love, my love, my love. This have I done for my true love.
Who is singing? Well what immediately springs to mind for me is that beautiful passage in the Song of Songs chapter 2 which over the centuries has been interpreted as being the song of Jesus calling his bride the Church.
My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, 11 for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
What moves me so much each time I sing this, is the wonderful news contained in this simple (and seemingly rather unspiritual) refrain, that everything in Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection and ascension was done for the glory of God and for his true love – and that’s us. This is truly the heart of the gospel – God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Now we can know that truth in part (and how we need to keep reminding ourselves of it) and one day when He comes again we will see him face to face.