(James 1.22-end & John 16.23b-end – BCP Lectionary)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate Rogation Sunday. This has traditionally been the day when parishes would ‘beat the bounds’, to make sure everyone knew where the parish boundaries were. Every seven years the parish markers would literally be beaten with branches – to mark them, but also to create a sort of mental map. Its purpose was so that everyone knew which parish they lived in, so where they could get married or buried. Over time this walking the land became linked with prayers for the growing of crops and a day to ask God for protection from calamities.
The minor rogation days are held on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday, but in the Anglican tradition it became celebrated on this, the 6th Sunday of Easter. Why? Well, this is your annual reminder that the word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin ‘rogare’, meaning “to ask”. And Rogation Sunday is rooted in the Book of Common Prayer. This is one of those times when the contemporary church might not realise where the link comes from.
The Gospel for this Sunday includes these words from John’s Gospel: ‘if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name… ask, and you will receive.’ (John 16.23-24).
We probably all have things we want to ask God for, but truthfully does any of it link to the land any more? Even here in rural Sussex the majority of us are at least one step away from the land. But it doesn’t take much for us to realise how much we depend on the land.
In a week when inflation has risen to a 40 year high we are all well aware that the cost of living is going to become painful for many people. The war in Ukraine will cause pain far beyond its borders. Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of the world, producing wheat, sunflower oil, barley and potatoes. Unable to bring in the harvest, where the land has not been decimated by bombs, the resulting shortage will push the cost of food up around the world. Praying for peace means praying to end world hunger as well as an end to the violence.
There is also another kind of need. When Jesus met with people he rarely made assumptions about them, often inviting them to say out loud what was on their hearts.
This reminds me of a passage in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ by C.S.Lewis. Digory and Polly are sent on a journey back to the garden of Eden, to retrieve the fruit of tree of life. When they arrive, Fledge, the talking and flying horse settles down to a nice grassy dinner, but Digory and Polly have nothing, and stared at one another in dismay.
“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.
“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
Just as when Jesus met with people with visible disabilities, he never just healed them. He asked what they wanted. That’s a good model for the church – we should never being doing mission or evangelism to people. We walk with them, and together we share in the journey. So asking God is part of outstanding of our need for God, and an opening up of ourselves to God.
And there is another type of rogare – to ask to join in with God’s work, to ask how we can help. This is the crux of James’ epistle, that faith without works is dead. We must be doers of the word, remembering that it is God’s word.
So this Rogation Sunday, we actually have lots to ask God:
- for our land, for farmers and their crops and animals, that the harvest would be fruitful.
- for the the world, especially where life is particularly fragile and reliant on the land, and where war is impacting on food production, that peace would come swiftly.
- for those in our community who are struggling financially, for support to enable them to put food on the table or to pay the bills.
- for the wealthy, that they would use their abundance to help those in need.
- for our churches, that we would be blessed with greater income and people, to enable us to focus on the missionary work of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
- and for ourselves, that each and every one of us will become more aware of our need for God.
(Artwork: ‘Rogation Sunday’ by Enid Chadwick)