Rogation Sunday 2020
Rogation Sunday 2020
Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
I wonder what has kept you going during lockdown? What has become important to you or what has occupied your thoughts during this time? Apart from much hand wringing about my daughters and anxieties about the future I have to admit that my thoughts have often been about food; in the context in which we are living at the moment little things become important and with long days at home the ritual of preparing and eating meals has provided a framework for everything else. I have to own up though, food has always been very important to me, I think it stems from the fact that I was a very premature baby and the doctors told my parents that I would not survive. I was baptised in hospital and when against all odds, I did survive, my very low birth weight meant that it was important that I was encouraged to eat. Unfortunately that encouragement meant that I developed into a very fat little girl; I cringe when I look at my childhood photos.
We do take food for granted though don’t we, and we are outraged when our favourite fruit or vegetable is not available on the supermarket shelves. Generally we give little thought to the effort involved in the planting, growing, picking and delivering of our food. Granted this has been highlighted somewhat in the last few weeks with the prospect of farmers being unable to find people to harvest asparagus and soft fruit etc, and it’s alerted us to the nature of the work and that it’s often back breaking with long hours for low pay.
Rogation Sunday is an opportunity for us to rectify the above and spend some time acknowledging our dependence on the natural world and on those who grow and harvest our food.
The word “rogation” has lost its familiarity to many people both inside and outside the church. The root of the word is the same as “interrogate,” which means to “ask.” Rogation Sunday is traditionally when we ask God’s blessing upon the land, the spring planting, and upon our daily life and work. Historically it was a very important day in which communities would ‘beat the bounds’ of their parish boundaries; they would walk the boundaries to mark their ownership of the land. Sometimes they would literally come to blows with another parish and the churchwardens’ wands or sticks would be employed to settle the matter.
There was a time when congregations going out into the fields to pray for the land seemed normal, right, good, and even necessary. But with the coming of rationalism, science, urbanization and modern agriculture, there was less and less of a felt need to ask God to be involved with our gardens and fields. Prayer got lumped in with superstition and ignorance.
As a species, we have not been very good at recognising our limitations with regard to creation, to the earth we inhabit, and share with other species and life-forms. It is one of the most painful lessons of adulthood, realizing how little we really know, and how much less we can command; maybe that has changed in the light of the pandemic we are living through. The struggle to impose our will on everything around us, including the earth, has caused grave damage to the environment, to other people and to ourselves. Something has been lost; there is a pervasive sense of alienation that overshadows us. But thinking more about food and its origins etc can help us develop a deeper and much needed connection to the earth.
My love of food extends to cooking it and I like nothing better than to be in the kitchen, chopping vegetables in preparation for eating them. Last week my chopping involved amongst other things a red onion, so what you might say, but have you ever stopped and actually looked at a red onion? Slicing the onion in half I was struck by how beautiful it was with its perfect pattern of growth tapering up to its tip. And what about broad beans and their wonderful furry cases, what about the miracle of the perfect eggs my chickens lay every single day?
Lately, before I eat my meals, I have been lighting a candle on the table to remind myself to be grateful, not just for my food, but for all the gifts I am lucky enough to enjoy. The candle also reminds me that I am embedded in and share our mother earth and its bounty with many other living beings. And I grieve for the awful fact that as human beings we have assumed that the universe is at our disposal, that it has no intrinsic worth other than its usefulness to the human species and that this has made us careless to the point of extreme culpability.
We can’t have our Rogation service on farm today but that shouldn’t stop us from offering prayers and blessings for the land. In these fragmented uncertain times we can open our hearts to immerse ourselves in the eternal deep peace of the created order. Humankind might rage and contend across borders and continents, empires might rise and fall, men and women might flower and die, to be blown away like grass in the wind, but the running wave, the flowing air, the quiet earth, the shining stars, these things endure unchanging, promising deep peace in their stability, their beauty and their purity. They are elemental things, part of the substance of the universe.
So, if you are chopping veg today for lunch, stop and offer a prayer of thanksgiving, and if you have red onion, slice it in half and marvel at its beauty.
I leave you with this perfect ode to creation.
God's Grandeur – Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Prayer for the Day
Creator God, Jesus teaches us through the beauty and abundance of creation to put our trust in you for all things. We ask you now to bless our fields and gardens, hills and streams, our rivers, lakes, reservoirs and seas that in all these things we might glimpse a reflection of your glory and your gracious love for each one of us.
Bless, O Lord, the houses and farms and all the homes in this place. Give us good health, purity of spirit, strength and humility, hospitality, a spirit of forgiveness and firm knowledge of our need to seek you in all things.
We pray in the name of Jesus, creative Word of God. Amen.