“And the Lord showed him all the land”
Rogation Sunday celebrates the redemption of creation and our place in the landscape of creation redeemed. The Resurrection is cosmic in scope. It concerns the whole world as ordered to God. This acts as a kind of corrective with respect to our modern attitudes and approaches to the natural world as something which is just there to be manipulated and used. Rogation is prayer. Prayer does not separate us from creation but belongs to the gathering of all creation to God.
Thus prayer is an activity of redeemed humanity and happens in the land where we have been placed. Our places in the land are to be the places of grace. How? By prayer. Rogationtide embraces the world in prayer. The world is comprehended in the relationship of the Father and the Son in the bond of the Holy Spirit, as seen most wonderfully in today’s Gospel and which culminates in the Ascension. What is overcome is sin, the world as turned away from God and as turned against God, the world as infected and stained by our sinfulness, by our forgetfulness of our place and of ourselves in the landscape of creation redeemed, and of our forgetfulness of one another. The consequences are our disrespect for the land and the sea, for the world in which we have been placed, and for one another. We make a mess of it. We forget the place of creation in the will of God; we forget the redemption of creation and our place in it.
Rogation Sunday recalls us to a kind of theology of the land. In the story of Creation, the earth, the dry land, is said to be good (Gen.1.9,10) and the whole of creation not only good but “very good”. Such is the creation which God the Creator sees. And we, who are made in the image of God, are also formed out of the dust, “from the ground” (Gen.2.7). We are placed in the garden of creation. The garden is the land of paradise.
In the story of the Fall, our disobedience not only alienates us from God but also from the land. The land of paradise becomes the land of sweat and toil. “Cursed is the ground because of you … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to the dust you shall return” (Gen.3.17,18). “And the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken” (Gen.3.23). That means to work with the land in accord with the will of God in creation. In the story of Cain and Abel, the land becomes the land of blood. Cain slays Abel in the field: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground,” God says (Gen.4.10) in a particularly powerful and poignant image. These stories are altogether fundamental to what unfolds in the story of salvation in the Old and New Testaments.
In the story of salvation, the land is also signified to become the “promised land,” the land of our renewed relationship with God. The promised land is variously described in the Jewish Scriptures. Its proverbial description is the “land flowing with milk and honey” (e.g., Deut.6.3), but in the Book of Genesis the promised land is simply “the land which I shall give you” (Gen.13.15,17), whatever it is. It signifies simply the place of our relationship with God. That is its most basic and fundamental sense.
In the Book of Exodus, the land is the place of revelation, the “holy ground” (Ex.3.5) where God makes his name, “I am who I am” (Ex.3.14), and his will for his people, known to Israel through Moses. The land is the place of liberation, the place of our liberation to God: “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land” (Ex.3.8). In that sense of liberty and as given by God, the promised land is first called “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex.3.8). Yet it is not its paradisal elements, its echoes of Eden in material and descriptive terms, which makes it the promised land. The promised land is primarily, as the Book of Deuteronomy puts it, “the place which the Lord God will choose, to make his name dwell there” (Deut.12.11), the place of our abiding in the will of God. The land which God gives you is the land where the truth of God is to be honoured and respected.
Jesus intensifies and clarifies this sense of the land as “the place which the Lord God (I am Who I am) will choose, to make his name (I am Who I am) dwell there.” He intensifies and clarifies the name of God into the names of spiritual relationship, the relationship of the Trinity. He makes the place of our abiding in the life of God the place of redemption. The blood which cries out from the ground to God is the blood of the Only-begotten Son of the Father. The cry is his prayer. It is his prayer for us. He has gathered the whole world into his love for the Father. His spirit, which he places into the hands of the Father, carries all of the meaning of our misuse of God and the world back to God in love. The overcoming of the world in its opposition to God is accomplished in prayer on the cross, in the prayer of the Son to the Father in the Spirit. It has its fullest expression in the homecoming of the Son to the Father in Christ’s Ascension.
All prayer is nothing less than asking the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit. Out of the land of blood, sweat and tears comes the prayer which redeems the whole world: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Lk.23.46). As we have seen throughout Eastertide, Passion and Resurrection are mutually intertwined. The land becomes the land of grace, the place of our abiding in the spiritual fellowship of the Trinity, the place of prayer and praise to the living God.
There is the promised land which Moses looks upon and sees, the land which he does not enter but to which he has brought the people of Israel (Deut.34). In the preaching of Paul, the promised land extends to the world which hears and receives the good news of God’s redemption, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Acts 13.30ff). In between there is, we might say, the prayer of the crucified Christ.
We have to learn to listen to Jesus’ teachings in order to act upon what he says; only then will we be, as James puts it in today’s Epistle, “doers of the word and not hearers only”(James 1.22); only then will we dwell in the land where God is honoured and respected, the promised land of our abiding in the life of God (cf. Deut.6); only then will we enter into his embrace of the world in prayer.
This year Rogation Sunday coincides with Mother’s Day in our secular culture. Giving thanks to God for our mothers also belongs to the themes of Rogation. We are reminded of our origins in the families and communities where we live. The care of our mothers extends to our care for all creation, to the gathering of all things to God even in and through the sorrows of our hearts and our fears and worries. It is captured in the mothering image which Jesus himself uses. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Mt. 23. 37). Under the shadow of thy wings, indeed. It is the purpose of Mother Church, as it were, to keep us and nurture us in the knowledge of God’s love for us in the landscape of creation redeemed.
Unlike Moses, we have been given not only to see but to enter into the promised land. Where we are placed is where we are called to honour God and to serve one another. It becomes the land of prayer and praise, the land of grace, the land of our being with God in the motions of his eternal love. The whole world is gathered to God in the liturgy of redemption. In these uncertain and difficult times we are recalled to the essential goodness of the created order and to the vocation of prayer “at all times and in all places.”
“And the Lord showed him all the land”
Fr. David Curry
Easter V (Rogation Sunday) 2021
(Christ Church closed during Covid 19 lockdown in 2021)