Friday, May 27, 2011

Beating the bounds

The Gospel reading for next Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter, is John 16:23-33, which begins, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” The Latin word for ask is rogare, and so this Sunday is known in liturgical churches as “Rogation Sunday.”

For centuries, churches celebrated this Sunday and the following three days by walking around the parish boundaries, praying for good weather, for a good harvest, and for the Lord’s protection over the people. In order to be sure that the memory of those boundaries was passed on to the coming generations, boys walking in the procession would carry sticks and beat the stones or trees that served as markers.

Most of us don’t live in geographically contiguous parishes any more, and more’s the pity. But there are still meaningful ways to observe this season, and my bishop has included several ideas in an email he sent out yesterday, which I have reproduced here, with his permission. I especially like his idea of blessing soil for each parishioner to take home—it reminds me of the soil of Lothlórien that Galadriel gave to Samwise to take back to the Shire, but I suppose Tolkien meant for the imagery to work in the other direction. :-D

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“beating the bounds of men’s hearts”

Rogation Sunday and the 400th Anniversary of Our Bible.

This Sunday I encourage us all to pray for a good harvest from our fields and a spiritual harvest of souls. Too, I ask that we remember those who suffer from natural disasters... tornados, fire and flood.

This Sunday begins a little known season in the Church calendar not fully understood nor practiced: Rogationtide. It is a time for asking God for bountiful harvests, beginning Sunday and continuing through Tuesday.

2011 marks the 400th Anniversary of the most printed and widely circulated book in the world. In May of 1611 the Authorized Version (King James) of the HOLY BIBLE was introduced into the Church of England. This book is without question the most significant book in the history of civilization. How do these two relate, Rogation and the Bible? I will explain.

Rogation is an ancient service forgotten in many churches. Its early use was when most people farmed and depended upon the harvest for their sustenance. Now most of us think little of raising vegetables, fruits, wheat, hay and nuts to sustain our lives. We take for granted that the supermarkets will have what we need. We do not ask God to protect cattle, lambs and chickens from disease since we don’t see the effect if animals become ill and die. We suffer no personal loss or so we think. Unless the cost of our food and other agriculturally related items increases.

Rogation Sunday tradition for those who practice it is the same today as in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. She instructed by Royal Injunctions Rogation processions of clergy and parishioners to “beat the bounds” praying for a good harvest. “Beating the bounds” means walking around your property lines and praying that God will bless your harvest and protect you from evil.

Rogation prayers started in the sixth century in Rome and by the eighth century it was fully an Anglo Saxon tradition. This tradition is spelled out in Massey Shepherd’s Commentary on the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer on page 261.

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Easter and Rogation Sunday found on page 175 of the BCP is as follows.

“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 are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen”

And on pages 39, 40 and 41 we have prayers For Fruitful Seasons, Rain, Fair Weather, and In time of Dearth and Famine.

Prayers from The Litany are appropriate in view of the numbers of recent deaths suffered in natural disasters and war. Page 54 of the BCP,

“From lightning and tempest: from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.

Question: How can we follow the Rogation tradition when most of us are not connected directly to farming and crop production? Answer: we are all part of God’s creation!

I suggest this custom be taught. Parishioners bring a pinch of soil to the church building and place it in a basin at the church door. The soil is taken to the Altar and blessed by the priest. After the service each person may take a little soil home. The vestry may provide bags for soil and soil for those who may have forgotten or did not know to bring any.

At home the soil is spread on gardens, plants, crops or in potted plants while reading the 51st Psalm. The Gloria Patri is said after the Psalm. The priest may encourage people to place a small cross in the garden where the soil is distributed. Crosses can be blessed but do not have to be. Prayers are not only for our individual gardens but for a fruitful nation, for farmers who serve us and for all who sustain us by their toil. See the Priest Manual for blessings.

Sermons are usually related to growth, planting, gardening, and plant life. God’s promise of new life is not only for plants and farm animals but is for the protection of our souls as well. Note several hymns from the 1940 Hymn Book (numbers 138, 101, 497, 311, 315 [n.b.“We plow the fields and scatter,” “O Jesus, crowned with all renown,” “O God of Bethel, by whose hand,” “All things bright and beautiful,” and “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” respectively. Kelly.]) can be sung for Rogation Sunday.

The church yard is another option for “beating the bounds.” The congregation may visit a friend’s farm or walk the boundaries of their own property or apartments and “beat the bounds.”

It is important for Anglicans to not only pray for good harvests and for the victims of famines, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, winter storms and tornados in the United States but also for people abroad.

Lastly, there is His harvest which He calls us to and this is the harvest of men’s Souls. He reminds us in the Bible that “the harvest is great and the workers are few.” Seeds must be planted in the hearts of men. To be a worker in the vineyard is to share and spread nourishment by the dew of the Holy Spirit. In this 400th year of our Holy Bible let us powerfully lead the way.

Please, where ever you are, will you join with me in the “beating of the bounds” of men’s hearts?

Email and let me know.

In the Name of our Savior and Advocate, Jesus Christ. Amen

+Larry Johnson


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