May 21, 2017
+ 3 years ago this Thursday—on Sunday, May 24, 2014—we did something special at our Rogation Blessing. On that Sunday three years ago we dedicated our Memorial Garden. Now, I remember when I first introduced this idea at St. Stephen’s about a memorial garden about a year before that. There was a bit of frowning. There was a sense of, “Lord, what is he thinking of doing now?” There was a groan of “Really? A cemetery? Seriously?”
But, look what a blessing that memorial garden has had in our life here at St. Stephen’s. Thanks to Sandy Holbrook and the gardening committee and all the people who have worked for that garden and all that beautiful landscaping that was done there, it has become a place of beauty. And in these three years, our memorial garden has become a place of rest for six people—a new stone was just placed there this past week—and a place of consolation for countless others.
Now I don’t think I’m overestimating it when I say it has also become a place of mercy. We of course have laid people to rest there who had no other place to rest, who were rejected or forgotten. Why? Why do we do that? Because that is what we do as Christians.
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. I’ve talked about this many times before. 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.
We at St. Stephen’s, in the ministry we do as followers of Jesus, have done most of those well. Including that last one. Burying the dead is a corporate act of mercy. And it is something we have do with our services of burial and in our memorial garden. And, it’s appropriate we are doing on this Sunday, Rogation Sunday, the Sunday before the Ascension of Jesus.
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 be merciful.
To be Christ to those who need Christ. To be a Christ of love and compassion and acceptance.
Because that is who Christ is to us. When we forget to be Christ to others, when we fail to do this, we fail to do mercy.
Today is, as I’ve said, Rogation Sunday. Rogation comes from 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, [God] 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 our 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. It is very much a part of 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 the resources, which at the time is or ought to be used.
In so many ways, that is what we do here and what we continue to do here. Our memorial garden—this visible sign of the final corporal act of mercy—is a part of this Rogation celebration. This is where we do our blessing. We process there and bless the earth and the land there. We ask God’s blessings on the growth not only of crops and fields. And we do something also very important there: We thank God 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 you to look around the memorial garden. I ask you to look at the names there. We know some of them. Others of them we will never know on this side of veil. I ask you as you walk about to thank God for them. I ask you today to thank God for the growth God has granted us at St. Stephen’s And 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.