Young men and women alike,
Old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For his name alone is exalted;
His glory is above earth and heaven.
Es beautiful as the cross is, my favorite memories of Easter morning are often what happens just beyond. Our cross is one made of chicken wire placed right by the columbarium. On Easter morning, tulips, azaleas, lilies and even dandelions are woven into that cross. It begins to burst forth with color, making a statement of the Resurrection hope.
Now take a look behind the cross. Do you see the children playing as their parents fuss to arrange the flowers? In our church, the flowers are bought to the cross and then the children immediately rush to join the others playing in the columbarium. They dance along the walls, peek out from behind the azaleas. You can hear the giggles. Patent shoes are discarded and tiny toes play in the grass. The children cannot help it. They respond to Easter in joy-filled play, praising God with all that they are. Our hope is to respond to God in Orlando with that same wild abandon and joy-filled praise of Easter children. Our hope is to worship together in Orlando with the same wild abandon of Easter children.
As adults, we are often taught that play is something we let go of as we get older. However, our scripture tradition teaches us that play is an act of worship that continues throughout our lives. Psalm 148 contains an implicit call to humanity to join together in praise that is life-giving, adoring and joy-filled. Psalm 148 is a call to play. The imagination of our creation, the very splendor and glory of God, inspires us to respond with worship.
God created the sea monsters, the sun and stormy wind, and they each had a calling according to God’s purposes. Humanity is linked to the creation and we are called to give praise to God by fulfilling our own unique call. Eugene Peterson challenges us to consider “the total rendering of our lives as play, as worship before God.” When our lives are allowed to be playful acts of worship, we engage, and feel, and touch, and grow.
As we move throughout our day, our playful response to God gets pushed to the side. Our lives quickly become crowded with the stress and pressure from an occasional crisis. The psalmist calls us back from “gracious separation,” budget cuts, and post-modern challenges to the good news. The psalmist uses the imperative “praise” ten times in fourteen verses. With the good news that God is majestic, worthy of praise, and at the core of our being, we cannot help but offer that praise.
On Easter morning, the children were compelled to kick off their shoes and join together—in play! The Resurrection hope of Easter brought life, and they offered God their playful response of praise. They could not help it.
Children and youth respond innately to this imperative to praise. Growing up, we would rush through dinner with our family because we did not want to miss God’s gift of that last bit of sunlight. The first one finished would find the hidden coffee can and place it in the designated location, and “kick the can” would begin. We were moved to respond alongside the warm sun and the chirping crickets as they fulfilled God’s command. Our playful response came from deep inside of us along with deep belly laughs and shouts of “Ollie Ollie all in free.” We were called to gather together, regardless of our differences. We were called out of the drama of our days to join in a choir whose main anthem was laughter. These summer days were all so…..filled with praise! Play was the only fitting response.
I wonder what that might look like in worship. The uncomfortable reality is that we do not play as a response of praise to God. In fact, we may not even know what a play-filled praise would look like. There is a wild abandon in the psalmist’s response of praise. Caught up in the adoration of an amazing God, all of humanity and all of creation join together in their response. In worship, I wonder what that might look like. Do we worship with wild abandon, or do we offer that praise quietly in the pews, keeping our heads low and our voices hushed? What keeps us from praising God as the psalmist? How might we find freedom to laugh and play and praise God?
Since our childhood is past, it would be easy to think that the occasion for play is past. Yet, as God’s community of APCE, we are called to worship in Orlando as we rejoice and play!
Michelle Thomas-Bush is associate pastor for youth and their families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. She is a graduate of Montreat College, PSCE, and Columbia Seminary. Michelle is a certified educator. She loves to laugh, is a Pinterest addict, says she really does enjoy a good lock-in and “cannot believe they pay me to do this job!”