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The Advent Breakfast is postponed to Sunday, Dec 8.

Turn Jungle to Garden: Rogation Sunday

May 26, 2019:
Acts of the Apostles 16:9-15
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
John 14:23-29

Gracious God,
through a vision you sent forth Paul to preach the gospel
and called the women to a place of prayer on the sabbath.
Like Paul and Lydia, may our hearts respond to your word
and be open to go where you lead us. Amen.
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002)

Those who grew up in the Anglican Church a while back might know this Sunday by its traditional name of ‘Rogation Sunday.’ Rogation Sunday came before the Rogation Days, which were the three days before Ascension Day, which is this Thursday. In the gospel passage that used to be assigned for this particular Sunday Jesus says “whatsoever ye shall ask God in my name, the Lord will give it you.” There’s a theme of God as a loving and generous provider. The Latin word for “ask” is “rogaré,” from which we get “Rogation.” If we put all of this together, the idea, or premise is that Jesus is about to go back into the very heart of God — Jesus will “ascend” — and this fully human Jesus, who is also fully God, is able to bring into the very heart of God our deepest needs. Our requests, our hopes and dreams, our insecurities and fears. So with one eye on the event of the Ascension, on Thursday, we spend a few days beforehand saying “if we have a God who can, in fact, relate to us in our weakness in this special way, what is it that we might communicate, through the ascending Jesus, to God?

But as meaningful as that is, history is even more interesting. I suspect growing out of that theme of approaching God as the source of all blessings, Rogation Days become associated with agriculture. In church life around the Middle Ages and later, Rogation was observed by grand outdoor processions, through the countryside. And this procession was an opportunity to remind people of, and mark, the boundaries of fields. As they paraded, they’d say “this land belongs to such-and-such,” “that pond divides those two fields,” and so on.

And this is what I like: it was a multigenerational experience. So what they’d do is say “this land belongs to such-and-such,” and to help people remember, they’d push the children into the ditch. That way they won’t forget. They’d say “that pond divides those two fields,” and then throw some unlucky kids into the water. (This is how they had fun in medieval times.)

A little more seriously, the famous Anglican country priest and poet, George Herbert, he wrote about this in the early 1600s, based on his experiences. He encouraged Rogation processions for four reasons:

a) To bless God, thank God, for the fruitfulness of the earth;
b) to observe the ways of justice and fairness to preserving the appropriate boundaries of properties;
c) to show love and neighbourliness, by walking together, or maybe running into neighbours along the way of the procession. And using this time to resolve any disagreements;
d) to practice mercy, by gathering from the earth’s bounty, and redistributing to those in need.

In recent years Rogation Days have become more optional; seen as remnants from a bygone era. But in the last couple of decades, they’ve begun to gather new momentum, as we see that they relate to our increasing consciousness around the environment, and around the responsible sharing of resources. This might be a time for us to recall that we’ve been blessed with three different grants to help us in the building of our community garden project. We might remember this important outreach opportunity in our prayers, but also, importantly, commit ourselves — as able — to helping out in some way. With some shovelling, helping put together the shed, donating some gardening implements, etc. (And Tom Clancy will be happy to hear about your prayerful response to this appeal.) In coming years we might have some special Rogation Day outdoor gatherings, to bless the gardens for the growing season.

The reading from the Book of Revelation, as I mentioned last week, describes God’s completion of all things as a garden. Or as a garden in the middle of a city, the New Jerusalem. Where the Where the chaos — the disturbing chaos — of so much of that mysterious book, is brought under submission to Jesus, the Lamb of God, the real Lord of the world. It’s an appropriate ending to the wider story of the whole Bible, which begins with chaos, moves to a garden, quickly descends into chaos again, but is resolved, with this new garden. In his earthly ministry Jesus brought glimpses of this peace and order. It’s no mistake that Jesus describes the Reign of God in agricultural terms (the mustard seed, the sower sowing seed), and Mary Magdalene initially mistakes the risen Jesus for a gardener. What Revelation tells us today, is that the order that Jesus brought in his day in brief moments is a precursor to a more fulsome peace. I think this is what John is referring to in his vision, when he writes: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb.” The temple was a glimpse, a figure, a precursor of God’s presence.

I’m reminded of a poem by Robert Lax. He was the best friend of the famous spiritual writer Thomas Merton, one of my heroes. It’s a simple poem, written out in a straight vertical line, one syllable, on top of the next syllable. He writes: turn jungle to garden without destroying a single flower. To me, that describes the ideal of the Christian’s purpose in life.

So today, Rogation Sunday, and in the Rogation days that follow, we might spend some time reflecting on what it is that we should ask God. What part of our lives is in need of God’s benevolence, and blessing? What part of our world is in need of God’s order and peace?

And take note, today, and in the weeks to come, that asking, supplication, are part of our intercessions (the Prayers of the People), but also the Eucharistic Prayer. Toward the end of the prayer, after recalling God’s action in history, and recalling Christ’s Passion, and praying that the Holy Spirit would descend upon the gifts of bread and wine, there is a section of supplication. Make a mental note to tune in to what is being prayed for there. (While there’s some variation in wording, they’re basically prayers that God would bring order and peace to us, and to our world.)

We would do to consider our life as Church through the lens of George Herbert’s description of the Rogation procession:

– thank God for God’s goodness;
– be mindful of justice by respecting that which belongs to others (or that which belongs, really, to no one, or to everyone);
– practice neighbourliness by walking with others, reconciling when necessary;
– and be merciful, by sharing from our surplus, to offer relief to those in need.



© 2019 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter