Today is Rogation Sunday.
That probably means very little to you. It did to me until I had to preach on it for the first time a few years ago, and I thought that I ought to know what that meant that meant. The rector that I was working under, for reasons I still am not totally clear on, wanted to make a big deal about Rogation Sunday–maybe because of its role in tradition in the Church of England.
For background, Rogation Days occur in the week leading up to the Feast of the Ascension of Christ, which is May 26th this year, Thursday of this week.
There are two parts to the way that the Church, and especially the Church of England, celebrates Rogation Days. One is that churches performed the beating of the bounds. This was where the congregation, with sticks in hand, would walk around the boundaries of the parish–the village or town that each church served. Along the way would come to each boundary stone that marked the line dividing one parish from the next. And, with their willow swatches in hand, would beat the boundary stone with their stick. This was to reinforce to the people to which church they belonged, where they would be buried, and to which church they were responsible for upkeep and financial support (a.k.a. taxes).
A second purpose of Rogation Days was to pray that God would bless the harvest of the crops that were being prepared for planting and growing that years crops. The name for these days come from the Latin, rogare, meaning “to ask”, and they are days to ask and to pray for God’s favor and goodness toward the people in the coming growing season, specifically in having an abundance of food in the fall. That’s also why in our worship this morning we hear hymns that refer to growing and harvesting and the work that goes into the food we enjoy.
And in our collect this morning, we acknowledge that there are good things which our God has promised to us, the Church. That our God is a good, and kind, and loving God, who through the course of history, and especially in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, has promised good things to us if we would only trust and obey what God wishes for our lives.
This is where it’s easy for the pessimist in me to take over. Where I begin to look too critically at the collect or the Scriptures. Where we read about the good things that “God has prepared for us” and I think back to the times that, despite my best effort and best intentions, I’ve been disappointed and beaten down by the unwanted turns of life.
But at the same time, there is still within me the conviction and the belief that yes, our God is not only a good, loving, and powerful God, but that this God is here, with us now, and has demonstrated the power of his love, and the power of his hands, in the life and ministry of Jesus.
That’s especially visible this morning in Jesus interaction with the man at the pool. Somehow, this pool was believed to have supernatural healing powers, that the water was stirred on occasion by the angels of God, and the first person to go into the pool when this occurred would be healed. However, the man could never be the first because he couldn’t get himself into the pool and no one was there to help him. So we see Jesus, who says to the man, “Do you want to be made well?” It’s kind and gentle in the way that it happens. And when the man says yes, and Jesus says be healed, he stands up, picks up his mat, and goes on his way.
Our God is not only a good, loving, and powerful God, but also, our God is here, with us now.
And in the grand scheme of things, that is what our collect is saying–that the Lord continues to do great things for us, especially in the promises that have been given to us by our God.
And despite how cynical I can be, I still believe that the promise of good things in the life to come, with an unshakable hope. That is the message of the Gospel, that there is more to our existence than just this life. There is also the life yet to come, in that holy Jerusalem that John saw coming down from heaven, where the is true peace and joy for all who attain that life, and whose lives are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
And, let’s not miss the other part of our collect, that calls upon us to love our God as well. That God also wants our hearts, to love God in all things and before all things. Which again, is not always easy, because our hearts can be hardened against God, or we can easily forget about God in our daily lives. But God still wants your hearts and your love, and we know that we can trust God, because of the love shown to us in the face of Jesus Christ.