Sunday, May 26, 2019

6 Easter

Rogation Sunday +++
The Blessing of the Lifelong Covenant of Donna Clark and Daniel Wolford+++
May 26, 2019

John 14:23-29

+ This past week in the Fargo Forum there was a fascinating article about what is now called “Green Burial.”

Green Burial, for those who didn’t read the article, is a simplification of the burial procedures in the U.S.

It bypasses the more traditional aspects of burial that include embalming, metal, sealer caskets,  vaults and grave liners, etc.

It even by passes cremation.

It is a directed burial in the ground of a body wrapped in a shroud or placed in a wicker casket.

“Green Burial” is not something unique to many of us here at St. Stephen’s.

I know that several of you are  planning a “Green Burial.”

I like the concept of these “Green Burials.”

Though I am, of course, a major proponent of cremation, which, despite the article, actually does not emit that much pollution into the sky (Most crematories have updated cremation ovens that actually only release very little emissions into the air).

I like the idea of the return of our remains directly to the earth—truly a ashes to ashes, dust to dust way of doing it.

In fact, I even read a book about Green Burial from a completely Christian (actually eastern Orthodox)  perspective, called Christian Ending, which is essentially a handbook on Christian Burial.

But we, in our own Episcopal manner, have been performing a kind of green burial right here at St. Stephen’s.

5 years ago today—on Sunday, May 26, 2014—we did something special at our Rogation Blessing.

On that Sunday five years ago we dedicated our Memorial Garden.

And now, look!

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 five years, our memorial garden has become a place of rest for seven people—and a place of consolation for countless others.

Most of those people have had their ashes buried directly into the earth, without an urn or another container.

The exceptions are those abandoned urns we’ve buried—we have kept them in their urns so that should family members want to claim them and disinter them later, they can do so.

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’s appropriate we are discussing things like mercy and love 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 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.

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.

We are doing so this morning.

We are living into our ministry of mercy to others.

Today is, as I’ve said, Rogation Sunday.

Rogation comes from the Latin word “Rogare” which means “to ask.”

In our Gospel reading today we hear Jesus saying to us,  

 “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.

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.

We also thank God today for the growth of our congregation.

We are thanking God for the acts of mercy and grace done to each of us.

And we are asking God to continue to make us Christ to those who need Christ.

We are thanking God especially for all the graces in our lives.

Grace is especially is something we celebrate on Rogation Sunday.

And grace is something I always preach at weddings.

Let’s see if you can remember my definition of grace.

I know Daniel will remember this definition.

Grace, in my very simple opinion, is a gift we receive from God that we don’t ask for.

In fact it is often something we receive from God that we may not even known how to ask for.

At most weddings I do, I mention that grace is what we celebrate.

Well, today we celebrate grace with this service of blessing on the lifelong committed relationship of Donna and Daniel.

I stress that is NOT a wedding—at least not in the tradition sense.

There is no marriage license.

The vows are a bit different.

Neither Donna nor Daniel will lose any benefits they would have as divorced or single people.

According to the task force responsible for this brand new liturgy in the Episcopal Church, they defined it in this way:

“’The Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship,’ is intended for couples who desire to formalize their monogamous, unconditional and lifelong relationships that are ‘something different than a marriage in that [they do] not include the merging of property, finances or other legal encumbrances.’”

So, like a wedding, but not quite a wedding.

But what they do get today is blessing.

God’s blessing on their relationship.

Our blessing on the love they have for each other.

And we all get to be reminded of the fact that God’s grace still works in our midst in wonderful and beautiful ways.

It is a recognition of the grace of God in this love—in the fact that this love they have for each other is an unexpected gift from God to them.

This is how God works sometimes in our lives.

Just when we think we have given up on something—love or a relationship or whatever—God surprises us.

God has certainly surprised Donna and Daniel with the love they have found for each other.

And we should celebrate that!

In what we thought was our barrenness, God produces a fertile and beautiful garden.

In what we thought was a kind of death, we find a vibrant and beautiful life.

That is what we celebrate today in the blessing of the relationship of Donna and Daniel.

It is appropriate to do on this Rogation Sunday—this Sunday in which we ask God’s blessings on us, on the growth in our lives, and on the renewal in our lives.

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 on the stones 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.

I ask you to thank God for the love in Donna and Daniels’ lives.

And I ask that you remember Jesus’ call to us, to love God and to keep that  commandment of love and mercy.

This 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.

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.


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