Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Fifth Sunday after Easter, also called Rogation Sunday

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

John 16:33

“In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer,
 I have overcome the world”

Jesus’ words are strong and wonderful words. They capture an important feature of the Christian understanding, one which, perhaps, we have forgotten. The Resurrection changes how we look on the world and on our experiences in the world. The Resurrection is cosmic in scope. The celebration of human redemption equally embraces the idea of the redemption of the world. That is really what is meant by the term ‘overcoming’.

Today is, or was, commonly called Rogation Sunday. Rogation is about asking. Prayer, in its most basic sense, is about asking. To ask for something recognizes that you don’t have something which you need or would like to have. The idea of asking is itself a kind of reality check on the human situation. It recognizes that we are incomplete. Asking means looking to another for what we do not have but want and need. The ultimate Other is God. Asking is a fundamental feature of prayer. And of the possibilities of education, of learning, too. The passionate desire (eros) to know means recognising that you do not know.

Asking is complemented by another fundamental feature of prayer, namely, praise. Prayer and praise are important features of Rogationtide. Prayer is to be understood in a much bigger and broader sense than what we might ordinarily think. Prayer is large in its scope. As Richard Hooker puts it, “prayer signifies all the service we ever do unto God.” In other words, prayer in its largest sense embraces the whole of our lives. Our lives are to be understood as lives of prayer and praise.

The liberating factor is that prayer and praise place us with God. Nothing need stand between us and God. Why not? Because of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are, you might say, freed to God. Prayer and praise are about that freedom.
There is a sense in which the doctrine of the Resurrection empowers our practical lives. We may think of ourselves as a kind of practical people, busy with the doing of things. We may even be a bit impatient with the idea of teaching and learning. Just go and do is our usual mantra. Yet Rogation Sunday in Eastertide reminds of the inescapable connection between thinking and doing. We are freed to practical life because of the doctrine, the teaching. In the Collect we pray for God’s “holy inspiration” that “we may think those things that be good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same.” Thinking and doing. “Be ye doers of the word,” St. James says in the Epistle, “and not hearers only.” It works both ways but there can be no doing without the hearing, without the learning. When we forget that we forget who we are in the sight of God.

The doctrine or teaching of Rogation is about our connection with God, with one another and with the world around us. It grants us the privilege of seeing all that we do as part and parcel of our life in Christ. If our practical lives become disconnected from prayer and praise, they are disconnected from God.

What I like best about Rogationtide especially is that it reminds us of our connection to the land and gives us, I think, a new and free relation to the world in which we find ourselves. Somehow wherever we are is to be a holy place if, and the ‘if’ is a real if, we are a people of prayer and praise.

Ours, I fear, is the culture of the disconnect. “Connect to the disconnect” is the phrase I like to use to describe the digital culture. For all of the wonderful conveniences and benefits of digital communication (and to be sure I couldn’t function without it), there is a sense of being disconnected from one another, connected only in the virtual world of cyberspace, and increasingly unable to communicate face-to-face, eye-to-eye, person-to-person. What connects us is what equally disconnects us from one another. What gets lost are real communities.
Rogationtide reminds us of our connection to the land, a connection to the concrete realities of the world in which we find ourselves, a connection to gardens and the ground, to the material world, to apple blossoms and tulips. Christianity is about the redemption of matter, not a flight from it.  And as a consequence, there is a deeper connection to one another. It belongs primarily to the divine connection through God’s direct and intimate engagement with our humanity in Jesus Christ.

Jesus only once wrote something, according to the Gospels, and yet, what he wrote we do not know, only that he wrote. “He bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” It is a powerful image. Jesus writes in the dust. The scene is the troubling scene about “a woman taken in adultery” who is hauled before Jesus to see whether he will condemn her to be stoned to death in accord with the Law of Moses, a law which remains in certain Islamic countries to this day. A deeply troubling picture, I fear, and yet part of our contemporary reality.

Jesus’ response to her accusers and his is to say, “let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.” They all quietly and without a word melt away, convicted in their own consciences of their own shortcomings and failings. As Portia reminds us in the Merchant of Venice, “in the course of justice none of us should see salvation,” in other words, we all stand in constant need of mercy. Jesus says to the woman, “has no one condemned you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” We do not know what he wrote with his finger on the ground but I take it as an image of God’s redemption of our humanity and of our world. Mercy in the dust of the ground overcomes the brutal ‘justice’ of stones. The pattern of death and resurrection is written in the dust of our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.

In many ways, Rogationtide speaks to the fears and uncertainties of our contemporary world which is disconnected from the created world. It recalls us to the redemption of creation as a fundamental feature of our lives. It returns us to the world as God’s world, to the world which exists for the praise of God. Our human vocation is nothing less than to be “the secretaries of God’s praise[s]” for the whole of the created order. The phrase is George Herbert’s. For man, he says, is “nature’s high priest,” lifting up to God the entire world in intelligible praise, giving articulate voice to the inarticulate voicelessness of creation. It is what we do in our liturgy.

Rogationtide recalls us to the land as God’s holy land, to the world redeemed by the death and resurrection of Christ, a world which exists for the praises of God and not just for us. In the pattern of Eastertide, the days of Rogation bring us to the Ascension of Christ, to his homecoming to the Father. We are reminded that “he’s got the whole world in his hands.” The whole world is redeemed to God. Prayer and praise are about our connection to that cosmic redemption.
“In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer,

 I have overcome the world”

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne

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