The sixth Sunday of Eastertide, known as Rogation Sunday, is a day that Anglican pastors should get dirt on their vestments. This is not only encouraged, it’s expected. The psalmist said ‘all flesh is like grass,’ so it’s good that the people of God walk along grass in worship and praise a few times a year.
Rogation Days are a lost tradition for most Anglicans in our time. Four days are devoted to Rogation Days, the Sixth Sunday of Easter and three days thereafter. For years, I saw the title ‘Rogation Days’ on the church calendar in Eastertide and I had no clue what they meant.
In recent days, I got curious what about why Rogation Days always occur in Eastertide in our liturgical calendar. I learned that Rogation Days began in the 5th century when St Mamertus of Vienne developed processional liturgies to pray for God’s blessing and protection over the land in the fields themselves.
Rogation Days call Christians beyond the sacred spaces of nave and sanctuary to bless the good earth God has given.
Rogation is derived from the Latin verb ‘rogare’ which means ‘to ask.’ In the liturgies of Rogation Days, we ask the Lord to bless the fields, the crops, and the hands of farmers who produce our food. Worship on Rogation Days teaches us that we depend upon God’s favor over his land. We ask him for goodness over this land.
When you trace the history of Rogation Days from their beginning to their practice among Anglicans, you discover George Herbert, a sort-of patron saint for rural parish priests, speaking about the excitement around the Rogation Day procession. Herbert said his congregation was addicted to these processions in the fields.
‘The Country Parson is a Lover of old Customs, if they be good, and harmless; and the rather, because Country people are much addicted to them, so that to favor them therein is to win their hearts, and to oppose them therein is to deject them. Particularly he loves Procession.’
Herbert’s Four Aims for Rogation Days
George Herbert outlined these four aims in the observance of Rogation Days.
- To seek God’s blessing for the fields to bear fruit
- To seek the preservation of justice in the boundaries of the parish
- To walk in love with one another and reconcile differences
- To practice mercy and generosity toward the poor from God’s provisions
It’s not uncommon to romanticize the idyllic pastoral world of George Herbert, but is there still a place for Rogation Days and processing in worship in fields in our time? I’d like to suggest three more reasons why Anglicans should observe Rogation Days in our time.
3 Reasons Why We Should Observe Rogation Days
1. Praying at Seedtime
Most Christians who walk the Canterbury Trail become Anglican by embracing the Book of Common Prayer, weekly communion, or the Daily Office. But being Anglican means embracing a practical theology of dirt, too.
Adam and Eve weren’t alone suffering a curse from sin. The earth was subjected to futility, too. Creation may be broken, but creation cries out for redemption (Romans 8.18-23). Just as Christ freed us from our sins by his death and resurrection, so his good creation will be set free from its own thorns and thistles to become what he intended her to be.
Rogation Days call us to participate in that work of redemption. And the Rogation procession is an enacted liturgy calling us to embrace our role in cultivating and preparing God’s world for the return of Jesus.
At the conclusion of the Rogation liturgy, a priest may bless seeds, plants, herbs, and flowers for their growth in the coming season. It’s common to thank God for the abundant harvest at Thanksgiving, but Rogation Days teach us a different kind of dependence—to ask and depend upon God when seeds go into the ground. These are days when our liturgy encourages you to dig in the dirt.
The theologian Vigen Guroian wrote a book on gardening and the liturgical year, entitled Inheriting Paradise, in which he offers these reflections on gardening.
I think if we all gardened more, all of the birds that fly in the air above and light in my garden below would be better off…When I plant in spring I also hope to taste of God in fruit of summer sun and sight of feathered friends.
Gardening symbolizes our race’s primordial acceptance of a responsibility and role in rectifying the harm done to the creation through sin.
2. Rediscovering the Parish
Rogation Days also ground us in the parish where we live and worship. No matter how far and wide technology might take us on our devices, you cannot be everywhere. You don’t live just anywhere either. If you have been baptized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you prepare for God’s new creation of heaven and earth somewhere.
This somewhere is the place of your sojourn to the New Jerusalem. This is the parish where you live and worship. As Wendell Berry said, “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it.”
Rogation Days encourage us to deepen our roots in the parish where we live and worship. You and I always live somewhere, a real place on earth, with soil and scars and history and hope.
Rogation Days are days to worship and say “This place matters to us, Lord. This soil, this earth, the people of this parish—their stories, their scars. Everything in this parish matters to us because it matters to you. And so we ask you to bless, provide, and save the people of your pasture in this parish.”
We aren’t tasked with preparing the entire world for God’s return. We tend the garden of our parish, not the entire world. Your parish is the place, the ground, the dirt, where you prepare for the New Jerusalem.
3. Preparing for Ascension
I find it both wonderful and wise that the Church summons us to worship on Rogation Days in the same week we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. We’re asking heaven to come to earth even as earth—in the risen body of Jesus—ascends to heaven.
Every week we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.’ Perhaps more than any other week of the year, the liturgies of Rogation Days and Ascension call us to meditate and pray fervently on these petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.
But even more, the sequence of Rogation Days into Ascension trains our hands and our hearts to prepare for the New Jerusalem.
What we do here matters.
What we plant in this seedtime matters, not just this calendar year, but for eternity.
Everything that happens in our parishes matters.
Because one day the New Jerusalem will come down to earth and the once ascended Jesus will fulfill all our works begun, continued, and ended in Him.