Monday, July 31, 2023

Lammastide: Earth, Altar, and Us All

The first day of August is traditionally called Lammas Day – a term coming from an earlier form of English that means “Loaf Mass” Day. This was the day when wheat flour from the recently-begun harvest was made into loaves (often of an intricate form), baked, and then brought to the Eucharist to be blessed. It was a sign of gratitude to God for the new wheat crop and an opportunity for communal celebration of God’s provision and all the coordinated labor that went into it. 

Until recently the direct connection between the earth, sustenance, human labor, community, and God was self-evident. If the crop failed, people went hungry, disease spread, and the possibility for all sorts of chaos became much greater. Village life – where most people spent their relatively short existence – left no room for global markets and Grubhub deliveries. It was a remarkably clear-eyed and relational world then: what was grown nearby through ceaseless toil and much uncertainty provided for survival. The various agricultural holy days in the English Church calendar (Plow Sunday, Rogationtide, Lammastide, and Harvest Home) brought human need to God’s throne through supplication, intercession, benediction, praise, and gratitude. The earth and the altar were directly connected through the plow, the worker’s hands, the barn, and the cottage hearth. 

In our current day, these direct relationships have been obscured. The abundance of food in our society would startle people from less than a century ago. The seemingly-ceaseless flows of deliveries to stores and homes have disconnected the various parts of the chain in many people’s mind. No longer are worship, community, labor, and the individual fully integrated: they exist in a disbursed universe of specialties. Worship is quite often more of a performance or a weekly ideological fill-up. Community now generally means mere likemindedness, online more often than in person. Labor has become hidden from view and treated as a kind of necessary evil rather than a sacred act. What prevails today is just the individual, the all-important consumer.  

Yet, when the pandemic upset all the supply-chains and production patterns, we had a momentary taste of the chaos and fear our forebearers knew well. Many people entered into full-on panic. Divisive attitudes, fantastic delusions, and apocalyptic hysteria proliferated. A few, however, knew that an essential part of the response to the situation had to be worship. Those of us formed by traditional Anglican/Episcopal patterns of worship knew about the centrality of those old practices of supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving. By engaging in them we drew closer to God and to each other rather than engaging only in panic. Earth, community, altar, and believer were pulled together once again.

The observance of Lammastide, or some version of it, would be good to re-institute in our churches (provision for it remains in the Church of England). It would be one more way for us to live out our message of hope, community, and communion. It would also be a very visible way to connect the earth, the altar, and us again. Rather than retreat further into the disconnected and anxious culture of darkness around us, we would be far wiser to gather together in the light of Christ, ask God’s blessing, and give thanks for the Creation and its many gifts – including each other. 

But this will take courage, faithfulness, and vision. 

St. Timothy's -- which has long observed the Rogation Days -- will observe Lammastide this Sunday as part of our renewed focus on the connection between Creation and Liturgy.  What will your community do to begin or continue this work?