Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sixth Easter Sunday, Rogation

John 14: 15-21

Grace and peace this morning, the Sixth Sunday of Easter season, and with two additional notes regarding the calendar.  Always one of my favorite subjects!  The three weekdays, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday are traditionally called “Rogation Days.”  From the Latin verb “rogo,” to “request,” (we have a number of words in contemporary use that are related: “interrogation,” for example.)  In this case a rogation is a prayer, and Rogationtide a brief season in which prayers would be offered in agricultural communities during the spring planting season.  

In rural English villages it was quite common at Evensong on Rogation Sunday to have a representative blessing of seed, and then to have a procession from the church to circle around the nearby fields and to bless the soil, and to pray for fair weather, sufficient rain, and an abundant harvest.  Years ago when I was serving up in Central Pennsylvania our Susquehanna Deanery, eight or nine churches up and down the Northern and Western Branches of the river, would co-host a Rogation Sunday evensong and potluck supper at St. Gabriel’s Church in Coles Creek, a country crossroads near the village of Benton--right out in the fields.  And if not too many of our St. Andrew’s  families, with the notable exception of Ben and Heather Shannon up in Stanton Heights, live on farms these days, I do know that we have plenty of gardeners.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash.  

In recent years Rogation Sunday has become time as well to think and pray about larger concerns of environmental stewardship, and always to give thanks for those who work to provide the food and clothing and shelter that we city dwellers all rely upon.

This weekend also of course the weekend of Memorial Day, and we would take a moment in our holiday of picnics and recreation to stand back to remember the origins of the day, originally Decoration Day, as mothers and fathers, wives and children, would in the years following the Civil War go out to the cemeteries to care for the graves of those who had fallen in that conflict.  And now a day to honor and remember all those who have given their lives in the service of our country, from Lexington and Concord to Afghanistan. A day for brass bands and honor guards.  And as we honor and remember them, and all those who have served and who are serving now, and their families and loved ones, to renew prayers for a just resolution to all the wars and conflicts around the world, and for a wholesome peace.

Sixth Easter.  Last Easter Sunday before Ascension Thursday, the 40th day of the season.  Such an impressive and thoughtful sermon last week shared by our bishop on the first section of John 14, reflecting on that word from Jesus to his disciples in his last hours with them on the night before Good Friday. “In my Father’s House are many mansions.”  As he shared with us, this deep and tender word a way of gathering together all that he has taught his friends over their years together and all that he has been for them.  Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, the Blind Man, the Crippled Man, the Hungry Multitudes, Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.  Glimpses of what it is to know the Father’s House, to be welcomed, to find our own home there.  Healing, peace, forgiveness, mercy, acceptance.  New life.

And this continues in the verses that continue as read for us this morning.  Things are about to change in big and dramatic ways, yet what is most important and of greatest value will not change.  “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.”

What a promise this is.  As at the end of Matthew 28, those profound words spoken at the top of the mountain.  “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Or as in the Ascension Thursday accounts in Luke and Acts.  The clouds receive him, but his friends are not left without comfort, without his continuing real presence.  Which from the Thursday on the Mountaintop has been what is definitive for each and every one of his disciples, his friends.  Year after year and generation after generation.  The simple invitation.  When I was involved in summer youth ministry programs years ago, I guess decades ago now, we used to have a song for the camp fire.  “Have you seen Jesus my Lord?  He’s here in plain view.  Take a look, open your eyes.  He’ll show life to you.”

“I will not leave you orphaned.  The world will no longer see me, but you will see me.”  In one sense Easter “the season” comes to an end with Ascension Thursday and then ten days later Whitsunday, Pentecost.  But the mystery revealed is that to know Christ and to see him is always and eternally a present-tense activity.    As he is revealing himself to us right now in scripture, in the daily reading of the Bible, which is such an opportunity and gift.   In community, the fellowship of this particular body, and all the strange connectedness of the wider church and of all the strange constellation of church bodies.  In worship, sacrament.  The splash of water at the font.  Bread broken, wine poured out.   In the face of his poor.  In the wounded.  In the unloved.  –Have you seen Jesus my Lord? -- Take a look, open your eyes.  He’ll show life to you.

As Bishop McConnell said, to hear those words rolling down the centuries.  Into our homes and into our lives.    In my Father’s House.  The way.  The truth.  The life.  Mercy. Hope. Healing. Forgiveness.  A new life.   A place for us always and forever, from this day forward, in his presence.

Easter blessings.  Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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