History of Hymns: 'Come, Join the Dance of Trinity'
By Anneli Loepp Thiessen
“Come, Join the Dance of Trinity”
by Richard Leach
Worship & Song, 3017
Come, join the dance of Trinity,
before all worlds began—
the interweaving of the Three,
the Father, Spirit, Son.
The universe of space and time
did not arise by chance,
but as the Three, in hope and love,
made room within their dance.*
*©2005 Selah Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
In the introduction to his collection of hymns, Tuned for Your Sake: Hymns 1987-2007, Richard Leach states that he desires to write hymn texts that are “biblically and theologically accurate and sound” (Leach, 2007, p. 7). He accomplishes this goal in his well-known text “Come, Join the Dance of the Trinity” by engaging the singer in an imaginative, multisensory celebration of the Trinity. What makes Leach's writing stand out is not only his ability to ground his texts accurately in the Bible and theological reflection, but also his ability to create a text that inspires the singer to worship and think in new ways.
Leach notes that “Dancing has a very long association with the Trinity, going back to the eighth-century theologians who used the word perichoresis to speak of the interdependence of unity and Trinity. ‘Dance around’ is a literal translation of the word, but its sense is ‘interweaving,’ and I use that in the hymn” (Westermeyer, 2006, p. 232, cited in Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology). Leach also said that “Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter and the English traditional carol “Tomorrow Will be My Dancing Day” were in his mind as he wrote.
The four stanzas of “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity” articulate the distinct roles of each member of the Trinity, while drawing out how the three persons intertwine—or dance—together. Leach draws on Genesis 1 in the first stanza, grounding the hymn in the creation of the world, suggesting that the Trinity spurred creation’s dawn. In stanza 2, Leach moves from centering the Trinity in creation to its role in the story of Jesus, from birth to death. The Trinity is a home for humanity’s frailness: “The dance of Trinity is meant / for human flesh and bone; / when fear confines the dance in death, / God rolls away the stone.” The Trinity connects with what we can and cannot see, from the majesty of the Trinity dancing through creation to the pain of the Trinity dancing through death.
Stanza three invites the worshiper into the most active of the four stanzas, taking seriously the call to join in the dance. Leach references Acts 2:1–4, articulating how the movement of the Spirit sets us free. Drawing on the pain of humanity (stanza 2), he calls us out of our frailty and into freedom in the Spirit. The call does not end there; we share the good news of this freedom with others: “go tell the world of weight and woe / that we are free to move!” The final stanza of this hymn is a celebration of our ability to move, to dance, and to sing within the Trinity: “Let voices rise and interweave, / by love and hope set free.”
The imagery of the Trinity is further developed by engaging the senses, representing the integrated nature of the Triune God, the essence of perichoresis. The song is an invitation to embody participation with the Trinity: “Come, join the dance” (stanza 1); “Come, see the face” (stanza 2); “Come, speak aloud” (stanza 3). This hymn is made more persuasive by the strong invitation to join in and share the good news. The rich imagery manifests itself in a celebration, one where we are invited to dance, to behold beauty, and to share our joy. As Christians, we gladly accept the call to join in the dance, moving our bodies and minds with Source, Word, and Spirit.
“Come, Join the Dance of the Trinity” (2001, rev. 2002) is the text by Leach that appears most often in collections. The hymn was composed for Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, Connecticut, the winning entry in the Church’s 250th-anniversary hymn search in 2002 (Westermeyer, 2010, p. 231). It first appeared in New Hymns and Songs (2003), a trial collection that led to its inclusion in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006). It was also chosen for the hymnal Worship (4th Edition) (2011) and the supplement Worship and Song (2011). The familiar folksong KINGSFOLD, made popular by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) by its inclusion in The English Hymnal (1906), is the most commonly used tune. It also appears with the more dance-like LEANDER from Southern Harmony (1835) in 6/4 meter.
Richard Leach holds a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary (1978). He was first inspired to write hymn texts during a course at Yale Divinity School in 1987, an inspiration that has led to the composition of more than two hundred texts. His hymn texts have often been based on lectionary texts, intentionally linking his texts to the worship life of congregations. He has also edited hymn collections and collaborated as the poet for cantatas and a requiem.
"Come, Join the Dance of Trinity." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/come,-join-the-dance-of-trinity.
Richard Leach, Tuned for Your Sake: Hymns 1987-2007 (Pittsburgh: Selah Publishing Co., 2007).
Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion: Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010).
Anneli Loepp Thiessen is a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa, researching gender representation in contemporary worship music. She received a Bachelor of Music degree from Canadian Mennonite University (Winnipeg, Manitoba), a Master of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Ottawa, and she was awarded the Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Piano Performance (Royal Conservatory of Music). She holds a graduate diploma in Arts Management (Queens University), and she is a Yamaha Fellow at the Eastman Leadership Academy. Anneli is a member of the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee for the forthcoming Mennonite hymnal Voices Together (September 2020). She is a member of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.