Thursday, May 29, 2014

Easter 6 A - May 25, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY 
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
Year A - Easter 6 - May 25, 2014

Acts 17:22-31 
1 Peter 3:13-22 
John 14:15-21 

We are coming toward the end of Eastertide, and I for one am ready for it to be over, ready to move on....though of course in one sense we never move beyond Easter.  Every Sunday, every day, every breath is a little Easter, a festival of resurrection and of  New Life. 

But in the cycle of our public worship, we are drawing closer to the end of our yearly fifty-day observance of this great and central feast which points to (though it can never adequately express, much less exhaust) the great mystery of Christ alive...alive in his own being, alive in creation, alive in his Body the church, alive in us. 

This Thursday we will celebrate the glorious Ascension of Christ when the mysterious tangible bodily presence of Jesus withdraws from his disciples in order that he, the Christ, might fill all things, all time, all space, all hearts.  That he might be all in all.  If you’re free on Wednesday evening or Thursday, come join us.

But before we get there, we have yet one more blip on our church calendar: Rogationtide.  Since the early Middle Ages, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday preceding the feast of the Ascension have been devoted to prayer and fasting and supplication—that's what rogation means.  And in particular, it has grown over the centuries into a period of prayer for the earth, days when the faithful pray to God to bless and prosper the new planting, the new crops, begging for seasonable weather, and via litanies and processions rather than surveyor's tools, marking out the boundaries of field and parish and town.  Indeed to this day there are places in Britain and beyond where the ceremony of  “beating the bounds” is held to mark the limits of the parish or municipality.  If you don’t believe me, check it out on YouTube!
Rogation Days Procession
And by extension, this Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, has come to be known as Rogation Sunday.  It is, if you will, the Church’s original Earth Day, its agricultural feast par excellence, far older than our Thanksgiving harvest festival.  We may not hear much of that emphasis in today's Eucharistic readings, but those of you who were were at matins this morning heard about jubilees and proper land use and fair labor relations. And we have been hearing off and on all month about the dependence we all have on the earth and on each other for food and water and life itself. 

I hear it most clearly in the Collect or prayer for today.  Let me read it again:
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
I am quite fond of this prayer and find it a powerful reminder of who we are and what we are called to be.  In particular, I am caught up by the phrase: “...we, loving you in all things and above all things.”

There is some interesting history here. The prayer itself is ancient, dating back at least to the eighth century.  And the phrase “loving you in all things and above all things” appears in its original Latin form.  But at the time of the Reformation, the first Book of Common Prayer retained only the phrase “in all things.”  Then in the 1662 revision the phrase “above all things” was substituted.  And so it remained for over 300 years until the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer reverted to the older medieval form:  loving you in all things and above all things.  And rightly so.  For we need both, we are called to do both.  Our Christian living and our stewardship of our selves and of our world in weakened, indeed betrayed, unless we honor both.  

We are called to love God IN all things. God is never absent from God's cosmos.  Indeed, through the Spirit at creation God's being charges and infuses all the cosmic order.  And as we will say on Thursday, Christ has gone up on high to fill all things.  God dwells in the atom as well as in the supernova; in the water and the plant; in the stink bug and the bacterium, the stone and the sun and moon and sea.  God is in the groundhog and monkey and yes, in you and me.  Maybe especially in you and me—maybe not so special.  But definitely there.  So our first call and invitation and charge is to love God in all things.  

The Latin word that our prayer translates as “love” is, by the way, not the familiar first conjugation verb: amo. amas, amat...that is, the love of the emotions. It is rather the word diligere, whose root means to choose by an act of will to reverence and hold in respect and awe, to esteem.  And that is a stance we can and must take toward all creation, whatever we may or may not feel.  That is the root ecological imperative of Christianity.

But there is more.  For while we are called to love God in all things, we are also called to love God  ABOVE all things...again: to respect, reverence, esteem and hold in awe. God is present in creation, most certainly.  But God is not creation nor is creation God.  God infuses the cosmos, but the cosmos is not God.  God is the source and goal of the evolutionary process. But God is not simply to be identified with that process. God is rather its directing and delightful energy and animating principal and—dare we say it—its Lord and Master.  We Christians are not, after all, animists or least not officially.

So we bow in worship this morning, joining with angels and archangels, and with the whole company of heaven—and with stars, planets, molecules, atoms, primordial slime, oceans, rivers, grasses, trees, lizards, rats, spiders, snakes, lions, cats, dogs, cows, each other...worshiping the One in whom we live and move and have our being. We bow in worship before the Creator and endlessly creating One whom we name Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who transcends every reality and whose glory we can only grope after, to use St. Paul’s wonderful image from the Book of Acts. 

Today is Rogation Sunday.  And we pray today for all creation, including ourselves. We pray to become (as the Jesuits like to say) contemplatives in action, loving God in all things, choosing God in all things, reverencing God in all things.  We pray for the will and wisdom to care rightly for all things.  But we also pray to love, that is to choose to reverence and to hold in awe and deepest respect above all else the God who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end, the source and goal of our own human longing as well as the inarticulate but no less real longing and yearning of the whole universe.  We worship the God who, in Jesus the Christ, draws our hearts and minds and bodies on high and along with us, draws this whole amazing created order.  And together we look forward to that point in and beyond time when Christ will at last be all in all.

Let us pray:
We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty ofearth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains,and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers.We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we maysafeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continueto grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation,to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 840) 

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