Ps 66.7-18 & John 14.15-21
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate Rogation Sunday, when we ask God for protection from calamities. The name comes from the Latin ‘rogare’, meaning “to ask”.
Over time the Christian traditions grew into the form of a procession around individual parishes, known as ‘beating the bounds’, as well as prayers for the soil and the growing crops, to ask for God’s blessing on the land, of preserving boundaries and encouraging fellowship between neighbours by reconciling differences.
The problem is it can all sound a bit quaint. These agricultural feast days, Rogation, Lammas, and Harvest, have a little bit of a sense of a world gone-by. Even in this Benefice, where the churches are surrounded by fields with gambling spring lambs, for the majority of people who live here, their biggest contact with the food on their table remains buying it from a supermarket.
This is not a criticism – it is simply the world we live in.
But I wonder if the coronavirus crisis hasn’t given us the opportunity to re-connect with Rogation Sunday.
If we are to spend this week asking God for things, including protection against the calamity that is Covid-19, then the first thing we have to do is to stop, look around us and reflect on what we need. And that means noting and giving thanks for all the things we already have.
I caution against drifting into the prosperity gospel here – if someone is well off, it doesn’t mean they are blessed by God and therefore someone who is not well off has not been blessed by God. But it does mean they have privileges.
Noting our privileges is really important, because it helps us to say thank you to God for them, and then use them to help others.
For example, we live in a beautiful rural parish. I can step out of my front door and within a few minutes be walking in bluebell woods. Covid-19 has taken a lot of my freedom, but what I have is bolstered by access to a garden and nature. I am privileged compared to a lot of people living in flats without access to an outdoor space, or in urban areas where green spaces are limited or have even been closed.
So I thank God for His creation, and for the blessing of being able to see it every day. And although I can’t share it easily with people in towns, what I can do is promise God that I will take more seriously my part in the stewardship of creation.
I do not want to return to The Before when the birdsong was drowned out by traffic, and the roads were clogged with pollution. I want to take this time to imagine a better future – where we can live more harmoniously with nature.
And given this is Rogation Sunday, the same applies to the food on my plate. I’m not a farmer. My attempts at growing peas and beans in the garden are a source of constant amusement, so poor are the results.
But I can certainly take this time to think more carefully about where the food is coming from, and appreciate it more. We may well become more connected once again to the seasons and locality of food, as we see the impact of coronavirus in what is available in the shops. And then I can share my privilege by helping others. Keep giving to the food bank. People are more in need than ever.
And in all this, I am reflecting that in everything I have spoken about, what I need more than anything else, is God. I am utterly reliant on God. He is the source of my being – the breath in my lungs. It is His Spirit which lives in me. Without Him, I am nothing.
Rogationtide teaches me to note that need of God afresh, and to ask for God’s blessing upon me.
Because of the coronavirus we might be feeling overwhelmed, but our Gospel passage can really help us. Remember that Jesus is speaking to his disciples before his death. We, however, are hearing this in the context of Eastertide, so it’s much easier for us to understand Jesus when he said, ‘I will not leave you bereft; I am coming back to you’ (Jn 14.18) because we know he is speaking of the Resurrection. Likewise in speaking about the Advocate, this Spirit of truth that will remain with them forever, we recognise a foretelling of what will happen after the Ascension at Pentecost, which we will be celebrating soon.
And so, even in troubling times, we are told that we live in a context of love. The Father loves us and made us, and so sent the Son. The Son loves us and saves us, and so sent the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit loves us and strengthens us, and so draws us to the Father and the Son.
It is an encircling of love by and into the Trinity, and all that love can bear fruit in our lives if we accept and respond to it.
How does it bear fruit? ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ A response of love for Jesus will result in obedience to his commands, and at the same time that obedience will be an indicator of whether genuine love is present. Obedience isn’t a popular word these days, but the commands we’re obeying are to be loving, gentle, truthful, merciful, compassionate, to help the weak and vulnerable, and overall to be faithful to God.
So this Rogation Sunday, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on what you want to ask God for; to note what is good in your life and to say thank you to God, and to tell God with an open and honest heart what you really need. This is God, who listens when we pray in faith, and who “holds our souls in life and suffers not our feet to slip.” (Ps 66.8)
(Artwork: ‘The Blessing of the Wheat Fields at Artois’ by Jules Breton (1827 – 1906)