Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
On Monday, I posted a half-hearted status about Rogation Days on Facebook. In it, I made up a to do list for these rogation days that included finding a farmer whose crop I could bless, staging a procession throughout the parish, and scheduling a Eucharist with the Great Litany. My friend Jack Alvey, sensing that I was joking, called me out as if I didn't really appreciate the work that farmers and fieldhands do. That couldn't be further from the truth. I do know some farmers--several who call our church home. There are plenty of fields for me to bless. But Rogation Days and "beating the bands" and saying the Great Litany and parading around in fields to ask God's blessing on the harvest all seem a bit antiquated to me. Granted, I love antiquated things. In so many ways, I am myself antiquated. But the post was written because I didn't know how many people took Rogation Days seriously. Judging by the responses, lots of people do.
And I celebrate that. In fact, I celebrated that fact at our Wednesday Eucharist, which included the Great Litany. We didn't do the full-on procession because several members of our midweek congregation are mobility impaired, but we did "walk about the parish" in our imaginations. And we prayed for our community and for our farmers and for all of those who work the land so that we can eat. (Happy, Jack?)
In fact, all of this has been rolling around in my mind, and then I read the lessons for the Daily Office today--specifically James 5:13-18 and Luke 12:22-31--and I thought, "I HAVE to do a Rogation liturgy. These lessons demand it!
As James concludes his letter to the twelve tribes in dispersion, he urges them to pray:
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.Pray, pray, pray. And then pray some more. I started wondering about prayer, and I considered the recipients of this letter, and I thought, "I wonder what it was like to be an early Christian--whether Greek or Jew--and suddenly realize that all the apparatus of one's faith (temple worship, sacrifice, etc.) had been supplanted by faith in Jesus Christ. How does one express that faith? What's the currency of Christianity? We do share the Communion meal together, but that remembrance of Christ's one, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice is not the same sort of sacrificial, expiatory encounter as these readers had become accustomed to. No wonder they were discouraged! Imagine if all the mechanics of our worship disappeared--if all the churches burned down or there was suddenly a massive shortage of fish-food wafers and cheap port wine! What would we do? We'd find a new place to gather, and we'd pray together.
That's the point. And that's the point of Rogation days. We gather together to pray--not because we expect our words to "work magic" on the fields or homes in our parish. Despite what the Great Litany or the Rogation traditions suggest, God isn't up in heaven waiting on us to utter the right incantation before he will bestow his blessings upon us. He loves us and will provide for us. But how will we know that?
The currency of our relationship with God is prayer. We pray together to remember that God loves us, to remember that the earth's bounty is his gift for us, and to remember that we are bound to one another through joys and hardships as God's people. That sounds like a pretty good reason to put on a violet stole, parade around the neighborhood, and pray the Great Litany together.