“Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
‘Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.’
I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,” says the Lord.
Playground. That word may evoke a swirl of memories: the first time you braved the slide, the creaking of the swing set as you pumped your legs in pursuit of altitude, the bone-jarring thump of the teeter-totter when your friend dismounted and you plummeted earthward. A number of years ago, I did community organizing in a hard-hit, diverse community. The playground spoke volumes about the marginal status of the community and its people. Seats were missing from the swings. Plastic horses had been stripped from the toddler rides, leaving behind sharp springs, rising up from cracked blacktop like a curious and dangerous crop. Hypodermic needles lurked beneath the slide. I never saw a child play there. Nowadays, I live just a few blocks away from a newly refurbished neighborhood park. Mornings might find young mothers parked on the benches, scrolling through social media feeds while their wee ones explore. Evenings welcome teens for pick-up basketball, shirts against skins, trash talk flying.
In her meditations on the twelve months of the year may i have this dance, Joyce Rupp suggests that July is the playground of God. Adirondackers might be inclined to agree. Hummingbirds hover in the garden, sipping nectar, bickering at the feeder, competing for sugar water. Fawns rise up on feeble legs to follow their mothers. They nurse, tails wagging with joy, like puppies. The cat sits on the screened porch, singing a throaty song to the birds outside and dreaming of the mischief that could be had if the door were left ajar. People get playful. They hike mountains to savor the view from the summit. They paddle canoes amid water lilies, hearts jumping at the slap of a beaver tail. If July is God’s playground, then we are all-in. All of creation—the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the finned, the feathery, the slithery—plays, delights, and rejoices in the goodness that is all around.
Have you ever thought what God might do on a playground—or what might inspire God to delight and rejoice like a child in Legoland? The Prophet Zephaniah invites us to imagine God singing and rejoicing over us. It’s right there in Zeph. 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; God will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will rejoice over you with loud singing.” A different translation of verse seventeen puts it this way, “God will rejoice over you with happy song . . . God will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.” Picture that.
When Zephaniah wrote those words, the Israelites didn’t have much to celebrate. In the early days of the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE), before the king grew up and enacted reform, violence and corruption were rife. Justice was sold to the highest bidder. The widow and orphan hungered. False gods were worshipped in hilltop shrines. Indeed, for three and a half chapters Zephaniah’s word of the Lord imparts a blistering tongue-lashing for a people who have lost their moral center. It hardly sounds like a day in the park—or on the playground. Yet God holds out hope for the people, the promise of the coming day when holy judgment will end, enemies will be turned away, and the disaster we seem hellbent on making will be averted.
It’s a paradox. We get things so wrong, and yet we are beloved and deserving of celebration and delight. It’s the truth proclaimed by Jesus. When Jesus told Zephaniah’s story, he described a son who treated his father as if he were as good as dead. After debasing himself in a profligate life, the son decided to try his luck with the father again—perhaps out of self-interest, perhaps in remorse. When the prodigal got within sight of home, he saw his father running down the road, tunic hitched up, legs flailing, a dust cloud in his wake. The lost son was welcomed, with hugs and tears and great rejoicing. In the party that followed, we can imagine the loud singing and the joyous dancing. Even so, God sings and dances over you. How good is that?
In an Adirondack summer, it is easy to imagine God singing and dancing in creation. Those raspberry sunsets are like celestial fireworks. The flowers shimmy on the verge in the morning breeze. Waves driven by the wind send whitecaps to rush your boat toward shore. The drama of a thunderstorm ignites the night and rattles the window panes. It’s a sensational, dazzling, sensory overload of a playground out there. In the midst of it, God sings and dances over us, delighting in us, simply because we are her children – in all our beauty, in all our frailty. She sure can throw a party. Let’s get out there on the playground and celebrate. Thanks be to God.
“The Playground of God”
by Joyce Rupp
“If I could share my treasures with you
I would constantly send you blessings
from the depths and beauty of each day.
I would seal your smile with sunshine;
I would leaf your walk of life
with the tenderest of greens
and the deepest of autumns.
I would catch at least three rainbows,
and set a seagull on each one
to sail you constant hellos
from the heart of the Transcendent.
I would whisper wonderings
from silent nooks of mountain tops
and the humming heart of the sea.
I would call for the deer
and all the tender animals
to run with you in happiness.
I would ask each tree
in her most majestic mood
to cover you with constant care.
I would breeze in billowy clouds
to share their rainy wanderings
when you need to feel washed new.
I would take you by the hand
and hold your heart near mine,
to let you hear the constant love
bounding forth from me.
and most of all
I would join my heart with yours
and have you share the path of love
that God has caused and carved
in the shadows of my soul.”
Rupp, Joyce. may i have this dance? Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1992, 2007.