Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rogation Sunday - An Ancient but helpful tradition

Here is the text of May's Liturgy & Life from our parish newsletter, The Angelus.

On May 1st, we will celebrate Rogation Sunday. This Sunday was originally so called because of the words in the Prayer Book gospel for the day: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you". (The Latin is 'Rogare' - to ask.) In the strictly biblical context, the chief thing to ask for is the spirit of God to enable us to be true children of God. By the 17th century, the old Roman festival of 'Terminalia", or "boundaries", had been adapted by the church and served a practical purpose. In days before survey maps, there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes, especially where there were open field systems. During the procession, boys were bumped on prominent marks and boundary stones, or rolled in briars and ditches, or thrown in the pond to ensure they never forgot the boundaries! The Victorians made it more civilized by beating objects rather than people, in the context of a service and procession.

In the Western Church, processions to bless the crops and to include "beating the bounds", developed from the old Roman rites of Robigalia (robigo: Latin for "rust" or "mould"), when prayers would be offered to the gods for crops to be spared from mildew.

These rogation themes of blessing the fields and beating the bounds were commended in the 1630s by the poet George Herbert, that epitome of English country parsons. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:
  1. Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.
  2. Justice in the preservation of bounds.
  3. Charity in loving, walking and neighborly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.
  4. Mercy, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of our excess.

Today the emphasis has shifted. A blessing on growing crops in fields and gardens, and on young lambs and calves remains. In the agricultural cycle, the main themes are seed sowing and the tending of young plants and animals. While seed sowing is now done all the year round, as is the birth and rearing of the young, it is convenient to fix on one particular festival as the time to remember these before God in a public way. Rogation takes place in the springtime, when there is a renewing of the earth. In our country, it follows Easter, the season of resurrection, usually on the Sixth Sunday in Eastertide. Renewal and resurrection therefore are also underlying themes of this occasion.

We will observe the day at the 10:30 Eucharist by use of The Great Litany at the end of the Eucharist with a procession to the Memorial Garden between the Church and the Parish Hall where we will bless the flora there blooming. If you are a gardener, you are encouraged to bring a package of soil from your garden, seeds, or other elements of your gardening (including tools if you are so inclined) to be blessed for the growing season ahead.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Learning to listen

Truth be known, most of us are not good listeners. Being able to listen, I feel, is a gift. Most of us, while we act like we are listening, are already thinking about what we will say next - or even thinking about something totally unrelated to what I am suppose to be hearing. It is a bad habit that comes from too much stimulation: noisy public places, our busy households, contact television and radio. Hearing without really listening is sort of like learning to speed read without savoring the words I am reading, or like gobbling down fast food without really tasting what I have eaten. I get the gist of what is being said but keep my mind busy with other things. Is this how we encounter the joyful message of Easter???

When I come to the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples in John's gospel about the servant who is not greater than the master, and in the humble station of the one sent on the order of one who is greater, I wonder if Jesus isn't telling the disciples, and me, about the ones to whom we are to listen. I wonder if Jesus is speaking not simply about the way we are to bear the witness that is in us, but also about the sources without which we have no witness.

It is a significant message, these Easter tidings, when one considers with what weight and seriousness we receive the words that come from media personalities and how lightly and glibly we ignore the witness of those we deem less important. It is an especially important message for a church whose leadership has, for centuries, given priority to the words of adult males, dismissing as na├»ve or even ignorant the voices of women, children, the aged, and those whose color - or collar - did not match their own.

Almost from the beginning, the good news of God has been made known to us by those of low station and degree. Shepherds, fishermen, grieving women. Throughout this history, God seeks to teach us that we must discipline ourselves not only for the telling but also in the  listening -- since only after we have truly heard can we tell others the good news we ourselves have received.

It is our place in this Eastertide to listen, to receive the good news of the Resurrection, to open our ears and our hearts, that we, too, may truly hear and so be overwhelmed with the joy of Easter. And only then to speak.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The word of God grew and multiplied . . .

The fact remains that we do not produce anything. We don't manufacture widgets or grow plants. What we do is tell a powerful story of how we have experienced God's work in the world. What grows, as a result, is not the Church, but the Word, the story, itself. It is God that plants, nurtures, and reaps the harvest. We are the means by which God accomplishes God's purposes. In other words, it is not our mission, but God's.

In Acts 12, we are told that "The word of God grew and multiplied." It is important to note that it was not the church that grew and multiplied - but the Word of God. The fact makes me think that sometimes, we in the church get it all a bit backwards.

Image result for barnabas and saul
We often believe, I think, that we continue to operate out of a fundamentally institutional model of church. We think it's a business -- a holy business, granted -- but a business nonetheless. We tend to think of our Gospel proclamation as our "product" and build our efforts around marketing and public relations.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we are presented with the image of a harvest so abundant that it must be shared. The experience of the early Church is not unlike am investor in a bull market -- so many good things are happening in the lives of so many people, that the stories cannot be contained. Ultimately, they must share what they receive.

This is so opposite our own experience of Church in these days. They did not experience anxiety over dwindling resources or get discouraged about hemorrhaging congregations. For the most part, our discussions of late are not about a going-out but a going-away. Not about sharing but about loss.
Re-reading the accounts from Act in Eastertide is a good reminder that the key element in all these stories is generosity: not stories of in-gathering, but of giving away. Success for them was not so much about building up large congregations or "growing" the Church. It was simply about going -- and sharing what they had and what they knew.

Perhaps we need to practice this a bit more in our own experience. Perhaps we need to simply "to go and to share" the abundant grace that comes from all that God has done and continues to do in our lives. Just go and share -- and God will do the rest.