This Sunday is Rogation Sunday, which is the last Sunday of Easter and the Sunday prior to Ascension Day. It also marks the beginning of a four day period called Rogationtide, which includes the three weekdays between Rogation Sunday and the Thursday of Ascension Day. These days of Rogationtide are to be days of fasting and prayer wherein we seek God's protection of us through the coming year. It is also a time when, historically, the parish would "beat the bounds" in procession around the parish grounds (or the village as a whole), asking God's protection and blessing upon all who dwell therein and asking for God to provide through the growth of crops and the prosperity of livestock.
The timing of this is quite appropriate as we transition away from Easter and into Ascensiontide, for it is during Easter that we primarily remember the resurrection and the presence of the resurrected Christ with us, but during Ascensiontide, we remember His return to the Father and absence while we anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples, the ascension of Christ would have generated a large amount of anxiety. Christ who was with them was now not with them, and since Pentecost had not yet occurred, and the Comforter, or Holy Spirit, had not yet descended, they would have experienced the temptation for fear and doubt and the loss of that intimate presence with the divine.
As Christ prepared to ascend, therefore, He made promises to His disciples that He would never leave them nor forsake them and that the Comforter would come to help them. Starting this Sunday, then, we intentionally take time to ask God to protect us and keep us safe, for we live in a world in which fear and doubt threaten to overwhelm us and when we sometimes feel as if the intimate presence of the divine has departed us. We have been given the Holy Spirit to comfort and restore us, but the feeling of loneliness and solitude can still overwhelm us if we let it.
Use the beginning days of this coming week, then, to specially pray for God's protection and blessing upon you, your family, our parish, and our community for the coming year. We desire that God's blessings would fall upon us, not only for our benefit, but that a superabundance of blessing would then spill through us onto all others around us as well.
A Prayer for the Armor of God and divine protection by Lancelot Andrewes:
Give to us, O God,
and above all things, prayer.
Grant to us the power and opportunity of well-doing,
that before the day of our departure comes,
our efforts may have produced good fruit.
Allow us to behold your presence in righteousness
and be fulfilled with your glory,
for Christ’s sake.
(as published in St. Luke’s weekly email newsletter, 5/23/19)