O Lord, from whom all good things do come: Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
This is the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Easter in historic Anglican Prayer Books. This Sunday is often referred to as Rogation Sunday, because Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week are Rogation Days. For many Western Christians, it has been customary since the 400s to gather for an outdoor procession around the boundaries of a parish on these days. Remember, when we speak of parish boundaries we are not talking about the few acres that your congregation might own; rather this is more like the boundaries of a town. Singing litanies while processing the bounds of the parish, the faithful ask God’s for blessing and for deliverance from all threats, such as earthquake, fire, flood, plague, pestilence, and famine.
Rogation comes from the Latin rogare, “to ask.” This stems from John 16:24, part of the Gospel historically appointed for Rogation Sunday. “Ask, and you will receive.” Christians then, if we would hope for God’s blessing and protection over our communities, must ask.
Our Collect, above, reminds us that all good things come from God. This is another reason why we must always ask: we must ultimately turn to Him, not to chance, not to our own ingenuity, not to kings, lords, and armies, and not to any other god, for every good thing that we desire. The Book of Homilies, a series of authorized sermons written in the days of the English Reformation, picks us this theme in its “Homily For the Days of Rogation Week That All Good Things Cometh of God,” telling us that God is the original source, not only of our creation, but also of our regeneration, justification, salvation, and even of our own good works, this Homily reminds us that our dependence on him never ends.
It is not to be thought, that God hath created all this whole universal world, as it is, and thus once made, hath given it us, to be ruled and used after our own wits and device, and so take no more charge therefore: as we see the shipwright, after he hath brought his ship to a perfect end, then delivereth he it to the mariners, and taketh no more care thereof. Nay, God hath not so created the world, that he is careless of it; but he still preserveth it, by his goodness; he still stayeth it in his creation: for else, without his special goodness, it could not stand long in its condition. And therefore St Paul saith, that he preserveth all things, and beareth them up still in his word, lest they should fall, without him, to their nothing again, whereof they were made. If his special goodness were not everywhere present, every creature should be out of order.
With this in mind, I respect the old tradition of the Rogation Procession, an annual act in which we commend our community into the hands of our God who is the one from whom all good things continually come, and I would love to see our churches continuing this tradition in some way.
Our parish has an annual observation of Rogation Sunday. We process out of the church and pray a blessing on the grounds. I like the tradition very much for what it is, but it seems to lack the punch of the traditional observance, which involves not just the church grounds, but the entire community. So we tried a different type of procession in the evening with the youth group, which I have jokingly referred to as a “Town-wide Vehicular Rogation Procession.” Beginning at our church, we drove to several key locations: a field in the middle of conservation land, a school, a hospital, a home, the Town Hall, the Police Department, the harbor, and another church. In these places, we prayed blessings on many areas of the life of our community. Our simple act of standing outside these places, asperging them (that is, sprinkling them with Holy Water, a sacramental act of blessing), was a winsome public testimony in our community that God is the source of all good things. We had a couple of positive encounters with security guards who were wondering why a group of teenagers was forming outside their buildings. One came out to ask what we were doing and I told him, “We are travelling around, blessing the town.” His response was, “Well, that is okay. Throw in one for me while you’re at it.” We got his name and prayed for him, for his family, and for his work as a security guard.
Stopping at an ice cream shop after the procession was over, I told the youth that they had just completed a service project. Our prayerful presence brings blessings to the entire community. Until the judgement reveals it, we can only wonder what impact our prayers had on that security guard, or upon the town instutions we prayed for, but we believe as an article of faith that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power.”
I don’t think that my desire to revive this ancient tradition is simply an antiquarian interest (although I don’t deny the presence of such an impulse). The heart of the issue, rather, is this: how can we, as 21st Century American Christians, participate in public acts of blessing that benefit the communities in which we live, through the power of our prayers and witness? What could the impact be if such prayers were offered annually throughout every town in America?