Rogation Sunday: A Rookie Anglican Guide

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Rogation Sunday and the three subsequent Rogation Days commemorate Jesus’ final days on earth before his Ascension. Accordingly, these days focus on the earth, the work of agriculture, and on human dependence upon God.

On Rogation Sunday we especially remember to abide in Christ the Vine, to receive his love and bear fruit in love for each other.

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The Collect for Rogation Sunday

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This medieval collect calls to mind God’s abundant gift of “good things” to humanity, especially his gift of the earth and the things that come from the earth. From the beginning, God commanded the earth to “sprout vegetation sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit” (Genesis 1:11). Moreover, God created humankind “of dust from the ground” (Genesis 2:7). Note that the name Adam comes from the Hebrew adamah, which means earth.

But we do not receive God’s gifts on God’s terms. Though God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, giving them every tree for food except one, they just had to eat from that one! We disobey God when we do not love him “in and above all things.” Our first parents’ sin resulted in a curse upon labor, including the “thorns and thistles” that would afflict the work of agriculture and, by analogy, all productive effort (Genesis 3:18).

Rogation Prayers & Processions

The Rogation Days, therefore, place a particular emphasis on prayers for the work of agriculture, for God’s protection from the thorns and thistles, and for his bounty in the fruit of the earth. There is a deep Biblical precedent for such prayers, beginning with Isaac’s blessing on Jacob:

May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. (Genesis 27:28)

One of the old practices of Rogation Sunday and the subsequent days is to make a procession out of doors, asking God’s blessing on the fields as they are being planted. Where practical, this is often a joyful time of communal anticipation as we join the earth in waiting upon God’s bounty:

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. (Psalm 104:14-15)

Relying on Christ the Vine

Rogation Sunday reminds us of our constant need for God. Just as plants cannot grow without the sun and rain from above, we cannot flourish without constant nourishment from God.

This nourishment we receive from Jesus himself, who uses another plant metaphor to explain his relationship with us:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

How did Christ become our vine? By climbing up the cross. There, he took the thorns and thistles of our sin upon his own head. There, he suffered the curse of Adam in our place to restore our relationship with God, the earth, and each other. The fruit of his death is forgiveness in his blood.

And now he desires we will bear fruit in him, the fruit of the Spirit, especially in love for one another.

Abiding with the Eucharist

How do we abide in Christ our Vine? In the Holy Spirit, especially as mediated by God’s Word and Sacrament, celebrated in the Eucharist every Sunday.

So, Rogation Sunday becomes a day to remember not only the fruit of the earth in the fields but also the fruit of the earth on the altar. There we receive bread and wine, which becomes for us the body and blood of new and unending life in Christ:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

Thus, we abide in Christ every Sunday, eating bread and wine and taking Christ to our comfort and salvation. What a joy it is to rest this way in God:

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)

Christ the Vine in Christian Art

Angelos Akotantos, a 15th-century Greek iconographer, first designed the Christ the Vine icon. Jesus is perched in the middle of a vine, but only his torso is depicted so that the vine looks like his legs. Moreover, his arms are held outward, reminiscent both of the vine and of his posture on the cross. The branches then frame smaller icons of the apostles, drawing life from Christ as their vine.

Angelos’ design has been copied and adapted ever since, now appearing all over the world. Some adaptations, including the one used for the image of this article, include the icon of Mary, the mother of Jesus, alongside the icons of the apostles. This underscores the typological connection between the vine and the cross and highlights the mystery of Christ, who from the cross nourishes the mother who once had nourished him.


Image: Christ the Vine (16th c.), in the style of Angelos Akotantos, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Color editing and digital framing by Peter Johnston.

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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