This fifth and last Sunday after Easter Day is in our Prayer Book “commonly called Rogation Sunday,” and the next three week-days are called “Rogation Days.” This unusual word “rogation” derives from the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.” In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks twice of “asking the Father ... in His name.” This is all about prayer, both of the supplicatory and intercessory types. To explain those tongue-twisting words, supplication is asking for ourselves and our own needs, while intercession is asking for the needs of others.
Rogation-tide (that is today and the next three days) took its origin in a time and place when farmers were putting in their crops about this time of the year. In a more reverent age, this had powerful spiritual meaning, when devout hard-working people acknowledged their dependence on God and begged His merciful blessing on all their endeavors. Rogation-tide was celebrated by outdoor processions around the fields. These eventually came to serve a secondary purpose of walking the property lines once each year to mark off every farmer's real estate.
Today's Gospel begins with what surely sounds like an extravagant promise: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (That sounds almost as extravagant as the concluding words, “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”) On the face of it, it sounds as if the Saviour promised that we will get whatever we ask for, if we only say “in Jesus' name, Amen” at the end of every prayer.
Practically every prayer in our Prayer Book concludes with the formula “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In those words we acknowledge that He is our great high priest, our advocate with the Father, who speaks on our behalf and intercedes for us at the Father's heavenly throne. We should not dare to pray at all but for that fact. Without Jesus, we would have no right to pray. Without Jesus, any prayer on our part would be a presumptuous intrusion into God's throne-room.
But there is more to praying or asking “in His name” than merely reciting a well-worn formula at the end of every prayer. Praying in the name of Jesus means praying with His spirit and attitude. Jesus was a Man of constant prayer. His most sublime prayer was uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”
Praying “in His name” is praying, as He did, in humble submission and total surrender to the Father's Will. Not to manipulate God or to gain our own selfish ends, but to set forth His glory. That is the prayer God will bless and answer in His own time and His own way.
And more on the Gospel:
"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 constitute 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 has already been determined and the final battle is yet to 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 irreversible. That is the kind of victory we are invited to enter and to share.