May 25, 2014
+ It’s a rare occurrence. A very rare occurrence. Anyone who has served with me on vestry knows how rare of an occurrence it is. There are moments, maybe, the vestry and the wardens wonder to themselves: “Oh no. What is Fr. Jamie planning now?” That is the opinion I got a few months ago when I first introduced to the Vestry this idea about a memorial Garden here at St. Stephen’s.
And when I did, I think there was a moment of doubt among them. OK, you could almost hear them say. We’ve went along with his Anglo-Catholic renovations, with his introduction of bells and incense, with his genuflections and his images of the Virgin Mary. But a cemetery? On our grounds? That’s a bit strange… And I’ll admit: the idea is kind of strange.
But…as I have said from day 1, it IS very much a part of our Anglican heritage. And more importantly is ties in wonderfully to our Christian faith. Certainly, in England, it common to see a church, even in the middle of a city, with a cemetery around it.
Why? Because people wanted to be buried near a place that meant something to them. And in the months since I have introduced this memorial garden to the people of St. Stephen’s, I can tell you that sentiment has been echoed.
This congregation is important to people. And it naturally makes sense that they would want to be buried close-by.
But a deeper meaning, deeper even then sentimentalism, is at work here. In our Christian tradition, mercy plays heavily into what we do. And as a result, there have been, since the early Church, a series of what have been called corporal acts of mercy. These corporal acts of mercy are:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To harbor the harborless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
Burying the dead is a corporate act of mercy. And it is something we should be glad we are offering now. And, it’s appropriate we are doing on this Sunday, Rogation Sunday, the Sunday before the Ascension.
In our Gospel reading for today we find Jesus explaining that although he is about to depart from his followers—this coming Thursday we celebrate the feast of Jesus’ Ascension to heaven—he will not leave them alone. They will be left with the Advocate—the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit.
He prefaces all of this with those words that quickly get swallowed up by the comments on the Spirit, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
And just to remind everyone, that command is, of course, “to love.”
To love God. And to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is what it means to be the Church. To love. To serve. To be merciful. To be Christ to those who need Christ. To be a Christ of love and compassion and acceptance. Without boundaries. Without discrimination.
When we forget this, when we fail to do this, we fail to do mercy. We are doing so this morning. We are living in our ministry of mercy to others.
Today is, as I’ve said, Rogation Sunday. Rogation comes the Latin word “Rogare” which means “to ask.” Traditionally, on this Sunday, we heard the Gospel in which Jesus said,
"Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you".
Today, with our current lectionary of scripture readings, we actually find him saying, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate…” From a very simple perspective, the thing we are asking today, on this Rogation Sunday, is to be faithful followers of Jesus, thorough out works and acts of mercy.
Now for some of us, this whole idea of Rogation Sunday and the procession that we will soon be making outside at the conclusion of our Eucharist this morning might seem a bit too much. The fact is, it is something, very much like burying the dead on the church grounds, that has been done for centuries in our Anglican Tradition.
In the 1630s one of heroes (you hear me quote him and reference him often), Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert, commended these rogation processions. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:
1. A Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.
2. Justice in the preservation of boundaries of those fields and properties.
3. Charity in loving, walking and neighborly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.
And 4 (hold on to your seats). Mercie (yes, mercy) , in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largesse, which at the time is or ought to be used.
What we are doing today is all of those things. Even the dedication of our memorial garden—this visible sign of the final corporal act of mercy—is a part of this Rogation celebration. We are asking God’s blessings on the growth not only of crops and fields. We are thanking today for the growth of our congregation. We are thanking God for the acts of mercy done to each of us. And we are asking God to continue to make us Christ to those who need Christ.
As you can see, the rallying themes of this Rogation time are hope and justice and mercy. As George Herbert reminds us there is always room for charity.
As we process out at the end of the Eucharist today, I ask that you remember Jesus’ call to us, to love him and to keep his commandment of love and mercy. It is more than just sweet, religious talk. It is a challenge and a true calling to live out this love in radical ways. It is a challenge to be merciful.
As we process, as we walk together, let us pay attention to this world around us. Let us ponder the causes and the effects of what it means to be inter-related—to be dependent upon on each to some extent, as we are on this earth.
We do need each other. And we do need each other’s love. And mercy. We do need that radical love that Jesus commands us to have. With that love, we will truly love our neighbors as ourselves. We will show mercy to them.
Our neighbors, of course, are more than just those people who live next door to us. Our neighbors are all of us, those we do in fact love and those we have difficulty loving. And our neighbors also include this earth and all the inhabitants of it. That command of Jesus is to love—to respect—those with whom we live and share this place.
Let this procession today truly be a "living walking" as George Herbert put it. But let our whole lives as Christians be also a “living walk,” a mindful walk, a walk in which we see the world around with eyes of love and respect and justice and care. And, most importantly, with eyes of mercy. Amen.