Rogation Day 5/5/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

One of the neat things about the Christian Church in America is that it is a melting pot of religious traditions from all over the world. The Lutherans trace their traditions back to Martin Luther and the German and Scandinavian lore, including the Vikings and the Visigoths. The Roman Catholics trace their traditions back to what is now Italy, and the early Christians mixing their Christianity with their Pagan gods and traditions. The Greeks and Orthodox Church blend their early Christianity with their ancient gods and traditions. The Presbyterians come to us from the Protestant Reformation, and its turning away from what were considered “Romish excesses.” They were looking for a more austere expression of their faith. The Baptists, Moravians, and Pentecostals, and a whole collection of other denominations in America, trace their roots to what is now being called “the Radical Reformation.” They took the elements of the Reformation and carried them a step further, in whatever direction felt right to their membership.

And then we get our own Anglican Church. It draws its roots from the early Christians who settled in the British Isles and Gaul, which is now western France. Tradition says that Joseph of Arimathea, after taking Jesus body for burial, fled the Holy Land, and with some early Christian followers, fled to Gaul and the British Isles. That is debatable, but popular Anglican lore.

Whatever – early Christians landed in Gaul and the British Isles fairly soon after Christ’s death. They found four significant pagan cults. The largest of these were the Druids. And in an effort to assimilate, the early Christians adopted and adapted many of the Celtic practices and rites into their early Christian traditions. And this became the roots of what we now call “Our Anglican Heritage.”

And one of those old Celtic rites was “Rogation.” Before the spring fields were planted the people with a priest (Pagan or Christian), would process around the boundaries of the towns and fields with banners, and incense, and sometimes a singing choir. And they would beat the land with sticks to chase out the demons that might infest the fields and give them a bad harvest. Then there would then be a big bonfire, at which time the sticks would be burned – hopefully burning the demons, as well, and there would follow a feast. Then the fields would be planted. The early Christians didn’t want to mess with something like this. If there was a bad harvest, they would be blamed. So they adopted it.

Later, the Romans invaded the land. They, too, adopted it and took it back to Rome as the Feast of Robigalia. Rome added the sacrifice of a dog. Thank heavens the Anglicans didn’t do that. I’d have to turn in my keys if we did any such thing.

Well, Rogation has continued as part of our heritage, our tradition, although with decreasing attention. I just hate to see us lose some of this old heritage. I don’t believe in demons and all that stuff, but I like the historical, cultural, and theological connection to our heritage.

The Book of Occasional Services, which is an authorized supplement to the Prayer Book, provides for celebrating Rogation. I stick pretty closely to what they prescribe. But like most things in the church, Rogation has taken on additional meaning. In our Church Calendar, Rogation is linked to the Ascension. The Ascension is when we celebrate Christ’s Ascending to Heaven with no more Resurrection Appearances. The Ascension is always 40 days after Easter. Remember that 40 is the mystical number for “purification.” We get 40 days of Lent, 40 years in the wilderness, etc. So the Ascension happens 40 days after Easter, bracketing the 40 days of Lent before Easter. This Thursday will be Ascension Day.

Now, the Sunday before the Ascension is always Rogation Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter. And the three days following Rogation Sunday are Rogation Days. So, if you have a lot of fields to cleanse, you have four days to do it. And of course, Rogation in the spring brackets Thanksgiving in the fall. One prepares the fields for planting. The other celebrates a successful harvest.

Riding back in the car from Clergy Day, Julia mentioned that she has always liked celebrating Rogation. She said that for her, it closes out winter and refocuses us to planting, and new life, and a new season.

I think she’s exactly right. We need those seasonal rhythms and cycles in our lives. They sort of tell us where we are in space and time. And as we become less and less linked to the land, we can forget that there are seasons and times into which we were created and need to fit ourselves. Our lives are becoming more and more of an “a seasonal continuum” that just flows along. We have heat when it’s cold. We have A/C when it’s hot. We can easily get strawberries in the middle of winter. With very little effort, we can live a life very unaffected by what is going on in nature. But as that happens, we lose our “sense of place” in the seasons and cycles of life.

So I appreciate it when the church helps us “reconnect” and find our place in the rhythms of life, especially when it carries us back to another time, another place, another people, where we find our roots. The church is really good at doing that.

And so today we celebrate Rogation Day. We will bless our churchyard, and plant some grass seed, and have a cookout, sort of like our Celtic ancestors did centuries ago, in another place, and another time. That’s just who we are, and from where our roots come.


Posted May 8, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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