Monday, May 4, 2009

Rogationtide: Not Guilt but Grace and Gratitude


The ancient tradition of observing Rogationtide during the 6th week of Easter has undergone some real changes and challenges in recent decades.

- Few people live on farms or make their living from the land today; this is exactly opposite of the world as it was for millennia.

- Because of technology, many people take for granted that there will be enough food each year (the last nature-induced famine in the Western European and North American world was in the early 19th century, due to a volcanic eruption in modern-day Indonesia – that’s a long time ago!)

- The Prayer Book has gradually lowered the visibility of this observance, until the current situation when the Eucharistic lessons for Rogation Sunday in the new (RCL) lectionary have little discernable connection with the Creation or God’s protective work in our lives.

- The modern ecological and environmental movement has largely secular roots, and its main observance (“Earth Day”) has no connection to the Church Calendar, leaving Rogation Sunday to die or become merely a quaint tradition, rather than the profound observance it really is.

            As an increasingly urban and suburban culture, the agricultural roots of these Holy Days can seem irrelevant to us. Yet, we still rely on the earth for all our material sustenance. We who live in a consumerized, technological, and largely individualist society need to bear this in mind.

            The secular focus on environmentalism, however, has often had a tendency to focus on the damage we have done to the Creation. That record of pollution and profound misuse of the Creation is open for all to see, and is indeed a shameful (and ongoing) chapter of human sin, which always results in the abuse of the neighbor, the Creation, or the self due to alienation from God.

            However, the secular world’s remorse for pollution often seems to get stuck in guilt, anger, retribution, regulation, and romanticized concepts of nature. Indeed, it frequently amuses me to see how secularists (or secularized Christians), who often cannot bear the least reference to sin when applied to actions in their much-protected “private” life, become persecuting neo-Calvinists when they spot “public” wrongs connected with the environment. Not so the Church’s ancient (and gradually revived) teaching on the subject.

            The New Testament makes no distinction between “private” and “public” sin. The wrong done in corrupt personal dealings is the same as the wrong done by polluting the environment. Both dishonor the created person or order AND dishonor the God who created all things in perfect love.

            The assumption made by the Scriptures and by the Christian Church until its infection by secular ideas in the 17th century is that we are stewards, not owners, of the created order. We are judged in part on how we relate to the Creation. If we see it as mere “material” to be “used” rather than a gift to be offered, we re-enact the sin of Adam and Eve, who “used” the “material” of the world in a way they saw fit, for their own gratification, rather than in a priestly relationship of gratitude and offering to the God who ordered all things for their benefit. So, there is an absolute requirement for repentance of sin against God in the misuse of the Creation (a much better word for us to use than “environment” in this context); but, the solution to the wrong comes not in guilt or in concocting a na├»ve notion of the past or a new Pharisaism in the present (where each action is obsessively measured for its moral consequences, with personal self-justification the unstated goal).

            Rather, the Christian looks to Christ, who in His words to the Disciples and the High Priestly prayer in John (Chaps. 13-17) commends all to the will and purpose of the Father. He restores the right relationship between God and world, and directs us to share in His priestly ministry as stewards of the Mysteries of God – which includes the present Creation while we are part of it. This is one aspect of what it means when Christ tells us to “bear fruit” as His disciples.

            As we come to Rogationtide at St. Timothy’s, we will offer some of the traditional aspects of the observance. After the main liturgy, we plan to process around the parish grounds while offering the Great Litany. In so doing, we confess our absolute dependence on God for our life. To this purpose special petitions for this day are added:

For favorable weather, temperate rains, and fruitful seasons, that there may be food and drink for all your creatures, we pray to you, O Lord. Lord, have mercy.

For your blessing upon the lands and waters, and all who work upon them to bring forth food and all things needful for your people, we pray to you, O Lord. Lord, have mercy.

For all who care for the earth, the water, and the air, that the riches of your creation may abound from age to age, we pray to you, O Lord.  Lord, have mercy.

            As in the past, additional prayers for good stewardship of the earth and human industry will be offered. We will also bless and distribute Rogation Crosses to be taken by parishioners and placed in their own gardens, farms, and plantings as a visible reminder of God’s blessing in the gift of life, growth, and protection of our fragile existence.

            However, this year there will be an important difference. We plan to ask God’s blessing on the new Community Garden hosted by St. Timothy’s. This is an important undertaking blending mission to the community, care of the neighbor, right use of the Creation, and the basic assumptions of stewardship in our Faith. It is a first step in our common life towards a renewed understanding of our priestly purpose with regard to the world around us. God willing, it will call us to be creative, generous stewards of all the relationships in our life. After all, how we treat the things of this world largely foretells how we treat the people in it. All of this will be a blessing, indeed. And that is something to be understood and lived with Christian intentionality. It is a gift of clarity and peace we bear from God, to be shared with everyone we serve in God’s Name.

            Rather than being imprisoned by the paralyzing guilt of a fallen and combative world, may this Rogationtide find us growing into the liberating, thankful joy of the renewed Creation made known in Christ! 

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