The name “Rogation Sunday” refers to the Medieval custom of special prayer at this time for the newly planted crops. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week are designated in the Prayer Book (p. 261) as “Rogation Days.” The old custom was to pray the Litany in outdoor processions around the fields on those days.
The word “rogation” comes from the Latin rogare, which means to ask or pray. This is a pleasant memory of another time , when Christians lived close to the soil, ever conscious of their dependence on God for their economic well-being. Hardly any of us has a glimmering of what it means to put in a crop. But in times of economic uncertainty, this day reminds us that we still are at the mercy of God our Creator, who has promised to provide for all our needs. (Here the distinction between needs and wants arises.)
Today's Propers (that's the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel) touch on this theme only tangentially. The major theme of the Gospel is Our Lord's victory, “I have overcome the world.” Those words, proclaiming His victory once for all over sin, death, and hell, conclude His Farewell Discourse.
But today's Gospel does have something critical to say on the topic of prayer. Three times in this passage Jesus spoke of asking “in my name.” That phrase is echoed in virtually every collect and prayer we know, “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Bluntly, we have no right to ask anything at all of God. We are His creatures, but we are mutinous rebels; He owes us nothing. So the promise of Jesus, “Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you,” should come as a surprise. Grace is always more than we expect or have a right to ask.
The Prayer Book captures this truth in many places. One of my favorites is in the Collect on page 50, in the words: “those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us, for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” Whereas we are unworthy, He is worthy, both in His perfect obedience and in His perfect sacrifice.
“Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness,
Mine is the guilt, but thine the cleansing Blood.”
Our risen and ascended Lord ever lives to make intercession for us. Therefore we are wonderfully permitted to ask all things in His name, even those things we have no right to ask at all. Rogationtide comes as the immediate prelude to Ascension Day, which comes on Thursday of this week. He was gone to heaven to lead us in our prayers, to plead His perfect sacrifice forever, to ask the Father to provide for our needs both spiritual and material. Peasants toiling in the fields and yuppies laboring over the laptops look together to the same heavenly high priest. LKW
"But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:33b.
Whether we think of these words as something said by a Man about to sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane or the pronouncement of One just raised from the dead, they amount to a truly audacious claim.
In John's Gospel, the term "world" is interesting in itself. We are surely familiar with the statement which should never cease to startle us, "So God loved the world." Superficially we might suppose that since God created the world, it was only natural that He should love it. At the outset of his Gospel John tells us "the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." It was not just the Jewish people who rejected him; the very creation repelled Him. The cosmos itself was in rebellion against its Creator. That is why a Virgin Birth was necessary. Like a man who is obliged to break into his own home, the Creator must behave as an intruder.
Now the Man (I keep using the uppercase M for a reason) who as Son of Man had no place to lay His head announces a victory. The creation which He made at the beginning out of nothing, the creation which rebelled against its Creator, the creation which rebuffed and murdered its Redeemer, has been subdued, overwhelmed and pacified. Jesus claims a victory over sin, death and hell, over the world, the flesh and the devil.
There is a strange distortion of the Gospel which talks of a great battle at the end of earthly history at a place called Armageddon, a final show-down between the forces of good and the powers of evil. That seems to mean that for the present time, the world is still an evil unredeemed place. It might even mean a terrible uncertainty about the final outcome. Who will win the last battle, Jesus or Satan?
A better reading of the Bible seems to tell us that we live "between the times." We live between the decisive battle in which the outcome was determined and the final battle will be waged. Military historians can supply many analogies. Think of that period between the Yorktown surrender of Lord Cornwallis in 1781 and the Peace of Paris in 1783.
In that verb "I have overcome" we hear a wonderful finality, a new and irreversible state of affairs. This sheds a brilliant light on its context a context which is our world, "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer." This bold announcement of victory concludes a long discourse which began, "Let not your heart be troubled."
As we come to the end of Eastertide, the Gospel tells us that the victory of our Saviour was no temporary or transient episode. His victory was final. That is the kind of victory we are invited to enter and to share. LKW