Friday, May 8, 2015

Rogationtide: Old, New, Eternal

A Collect for fruitful seasons

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Rogationtide is a mix of the eternal, the old, and the new. It is eternal because it connects with God’s nature of love. It is old because it reminds us of our ongoing connection to and reliance on the earth for our sustenance. It is new because it re-awakens us in the post-industrial West to dimensions of life essential for the well-being of the earth and all living things. Few parishes in our nation still keep Rogationtide; but that must change. Here are some thoughts why, by way of the first Collect (prayer) for Rogationtide in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

This first Collect of Rogationtide addresses God in a way very familiar to our ancient Hebrew  and Christian ancestors…as well as to so many around the world who preserve honor, reverence, and wonder for God and the Creation. God is Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth. It is this gutsy, earthy-yet-spiritual mindset that marks authentic, biblical, faith—and all meaningful Christian environmentalism. This has become an unfamiliar language to many today, drunk with our supposed technological power and superiority.

In this prayer we are not addressing a concept, an opinion, or an ideology: we come before the living God, and the God of all things (living or not). Knowing God this way leads naturally to humility, a realization preserved in the collect by the old phrase “we humbly pray…,” a manner of address so tellingly absent from most of our modern, tepid, hipper-than-thou prayers. 

Humility! Imagine: the “masters of the universe” who today play willy-nilly with the very building-blocks of life, doing anything humbly! When was the last time you heard being "humble" praised in your sphere of life, or even in the Church? Yet, this is exactly what Christ Jesus models to us: humility and service. What woe we could save ourselves and all the planet if we really followed in his steps?

The Collect then goes on to ask (the root word for Rogation) from God the provision of harvests from the land and the seas for our benefit. We, the inheritors of a scientific view that has reduced the planet to a kind of giant terrestrial factory utilized to meet our needs and whims, may find this hard to say honestly. And we should stop and ponder this for a while.

Do we really believe this? Can we actually accept that the sea is not just a pool of resources we may use as we wish, but a magnificent, complex, and mysterious cosmos having a life and value apart from us? Do we truly view the land as responding to God’s initiative, providing us the good things we and other creatures need, or do we still believe—in nineteenth-century, benighted style—that we are the owners of it all, and make the earth do our bidding? This prayer will make no compromises with our artificial and control-obsessed vanity; and neither does God.

But, the prayer goes on. It asks that God will prosper those who gather the gifts God gives; notice, they are not mere “products” as we would likely call them today, but gifts that we receive from our God. The prayer ties together a right belief about God, Creation, and neighbor in justice, humility, and gratitude. It connects the dots between the food we eat the hands through which it has passed; between the God who gives life, and the earth that responds to this gift and brings forth what we must have.

The just treatment of those who bring us our food—constantly being lost and rediscovered in our industrialized, de-personalized food empires—is central to this prayer’s understanding of stewardship. You cannot have proper stewardship of the earth if you aren’t being a faithful steward of the people. Rogationtide knows this. The Church knows this—if it but uses its own prayers and traditions.

It turns out that seeing the web of all these interrelationships, far from being an invention of modern journalists or food purity crusaders, is part of the ancient and ongoing inheritance of the Christian faith. The stunning interconnection of all things, something modern people are only now beginning to appreciate once more, is all here in this prayer with one foot in the computer age and an other in time immemorial.

The Rogation Days, which have largely been phased out of our common life because the agrarian world the come from was swept aside by a plastic, disposable, and earth-denying consumerism, need to be reasserted once more. We need more outdoor Eucharists at farms and gardens. We need more Rogation Processions with blessings of community gardens, hand-made Rogation Crosses, and parish/community food pantries. We need more sacramentally-rich and clearly-prioritized events featuring processions through neighborhoods where injustice reigns. We need more prayers and activities that call for resource equity, good stewardship, just labor practices, and acknowledgement of our dependence of God, the earth, and each other. All of this is part of Rogationtide, if we care to use it.

Beyond liturgical romanticism, beyond idealized pictures of the past, Rogationtide has a profound message for us today: we cannot be truly Christian, truly human, without a reverence for God as the author and giver of all things, the understanding of the earth as the divine sacramental gift of love it is, and our own role as priests.

For, this prayer proposes that it only when we are living as priests—all of us—that we are fully ourselves in the Christian faith. The prayer notes that we “are constantly receiving good things” from God’s hand, and are always to give God thanks for these blessings. In its most elemental form, this is what a priest does: receive from God in reverence, and offer thanks in humility.

Jesus Christ, who was constantly receiving and sharing the Father’s love for humanity (and does so still from the Throne of Glory), in turn offered to God the supreme act of priestly thanksgiving by offering his own life on the Cross for “the Life of the World,” as the Gospel according to John so faithfully and beautifully puts it. For Christians, it is all about priesthood, all about receiving and offering, being in relationship with Christ, sharing, and loving as we have been loved.

Every Eucharist, no matter when or where or for what occasion, is a head-on encounter with this priestly life and identity. We offer the whole of Creation to God, along with bread and wine, to be revealed as the holy encounter, the holy gifts, they all are. The Eucharist is a reaffirmation that Christ, the Great High Priest, has given us the Holy Spirit by which we may know him and live in him, and share in his priestly work in every venue, every encounter, every relationship. That means bringing these concerns before God in worship. That means giving thanks for things great and small. That means working for equitable, safe, and wise treatment of land and people alike—at every stage of life, at every corner of the planet. There can never be a division between worship and life for the Christian.

Rogationtide, where still observed, is a distant and yet present call to live as the priests we are. Alongside movements promoting home and community gardens, new initiatives in food cooperatives, exposure of unjust, dangerous, and destructive agricultural/fishery practices, and “farm to table” initiatives, this season-within-the season of Easter is an essential part of how the Church pursues God’s mission to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” by recalling our most basic human needs before God the Creator—and our priestly duty and care to offer it all back to the God who made it.

“All things come of thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.” (1 Chronicals 29:14)

No comments:

Post a Comment