Today we observe Rogation Sunday, which is always the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension (Ascension is this Thursday, May 21st). Rogation comes from Rogare which is the Latin verb “to ask.” Rogation is a time to ask for God’s blessing on agriculture and the resources of creation. It recognizes these resources as gifts from God upon which all humans rely for life. This aspect of Rogation days has often been marked, especially in Anglicanism, by a special form of procession called “beating the bounds of the parish” in which the parish congregation led by the priest would encircle the boundaries of the parish (usually a defined neighborhood or village), stopping at points to read Scripture and pray. Especially In rural areas, an important part of these processions was to visit and bless farmlands and agricultural operations.
This forms a Spring bookend to traditions of Autumn harvest blessings and of offering a portion of the fruits of our labor to God in thanksgiving for God’s blessings. The Rogation Day trip around the parish is probably the origin of the Easter home blessing tradition. For the last several years, our version of the Rogation Day celebration has included a procession to Wynnewood Valley Park next door, where we’ve read Scripture and offered prayers and blessings over God’s good creation that is represented there.
Rogation-tide has also been a time to ask God for protection from calamities, including the ending of plagues and protection from natural disasters. Here, it is important to remember that the Church has weathered many a pandemic in its 2,000 years history, and much more besides. A special form of prayer arose in response to these calamities called the Litany. The Litany as we know it originated probably in the 5th century. Some scholars trace both the Great Litany and the first Rogation procession to a bishop named Mamerte who lived in 5th century France and held a Rogation Day procession with a call and response type prayer to ask God’s protection during a looming disaster. The exact nature of the disaster, interestingly, is contested. Some contemporary sources say it was a volcano threatening to erupt, others that it was a series of calamitous earthquakes. One source claims it was an on-going attack on the city of Vienne by a demonic pack of wolves. Whatever the case, the Rogation procession around the town and the tradition of praying the Litany as a petition for God’s protection has long been a tool in the Church’s toolbox of prayer. It’s sort of like that giant monkey wrench you pull out when your home plumbing project takes a serious turn and you don’t have time to mess around anymore–that’s the Great Litany. Rogation processions and litanies were common in Europe during medieval and early modern outbreaks of the Black plague. In 1544, the Great Litany was the first part of the Latin Liturgy to be translated (and heavily edited) into vernacular English by Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer was in a hurry to bring his version of the ancient prayer to the public as a response to England’s devastating wars with Spain and France. Five years later Cranmer finished the first Book of Common Prayer, which stands at the fountainhead of our own style of worship.
All that to say, it seems especially appropriate to keep the tradition of Rogation Day this year during this pandemic. As part of our 10AM service this Sunday, we will have a small Rogation procession led by me and my quarantine-mates (my children). I’ll pray the Great Litany–you’ll be able to follow along at home–while the kids march along with a processional cross and Deb records the whole thing on a camcorder. It could be a solemn moment, a bizarre spectacle, or a complete disaster. Probably it will be a little bit of all three. However, pleading for the renewal of all creation and asking God for protection against grave dangers and an end to our affliction–all this is not a joke, and our intentions will be in the right place.
There is another way you can participate in the celebration of the Rogation Sunday from your own home. Below is a short Scripture reading and prayer that you can pray alone or with your quarantine-mates in your own garden.
Rogation Sunday Garden Devotions
Leader Blessed be the God of all Creation
Others (if present) The Lord, our God, makes all things new
A reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 8:19-23)
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray
Gracious God, along with all your creation we wait with eager longing. Help us to be revealed as your children. Let us fulfill our small part in the great work of reconciling all things to you. Let this garden be a sign of that day when creation is freed from its bondage to decay. Bring order, growth, and tranquility to this place. Send your blessing on this garden, on all the plants in my [our] care, and in all the creatures who visit and whose lives are sustained here as I am [we are] sustained here. This we pray in the name of the Resurrected Lord, whom Mary Magdalene recognized as a gardener on Easter morning, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.