Rogation Sunday: Easter V 2023 Sermon
These things have I spoken unto you, that in my ye might
have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.
(St. John xvi. 33)
Today, we find ourselves on the Fifth and final Sunday of the Easter Season. Today is called Rogation Sunday because our English word is derived from the Latin word rogare, which means to petition, ask, or supplicate. The tradition of Rogation Sunday hails from the 4th century and was standardized in the Latin Church by Pope Gregory in the 6th century. It was originally a Roman festival called Robigalia, which comes from robigo – meaning wheat rust, a grain disease, against which pious pagans petitioned the gods by sacrificing a dog to protect their fields. In England, on Rogation Sunday clergymen and their flocks process around the parish boundaries to bless the crops and pray for a fruitful harvest.
But the original purpose of Rogation Sunday goes back to Jesus’ opening words in today’s Gospel: Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you. (St. John xvi.) Jesus’ words follow the prophecy of His eventual Ascension back to the Father, where He says, In that day, ye shall ask me nothing. (Ibid, 23) Jesus was preparing His Disciples for His risen and ascended life that He would share with them. Its blessing and benefit, as we learned last week, would depend upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches us today that we must ask the Father in or through His Name for the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Word made flesh through whom we pray and supplicate the Father. This is why we end every prayer with through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again, Jesus says, Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (Ibid, 24) Notice that we are encouraged to ask so that our joy may be full. (Idem) Eastertide is all about learning to ask for what shall fulfill our heart’s deepest desire – the fullness of joy. God forever longs to share this joy with us, and it comes in Eastertide as we embrace resurrection from sin, death, and Satan. To begin to obtain that joy, we must set our sights on those things which are above and not things of the earth. (Col. iii. 2) In heart and mind, we must follow Jesus home to Heaven to find eternal joy.
But what is this joy? Christian joy is found in Jesus’ eternal nature as God’s only-begotten Son or Word, who always desires to do the Father’s will. True joy is found by entering that eternal delectation and delight. It is not found first and foremost in bodily health, through earthly ambition and success, by securing temporal riches and treasures, or even in gaining converts and seeing God’s work succeed! True joy is found by returning to the Father, through Jesus Christ’s Spirit so that we might delight to do God’s will. True joy is found in becoming sons of the Father who are made to do His will. Christ, of course, is the eternally-begotten Word, the Son and Offspring of the Father’s will. By His Redemption of our fallen human nature, Jesus invites us once again to become God’s sons through Him.
To do so, we must leave behind the cares of this world, which choke God’s Word. We must follow Christ in spirit and in truth as He returns to the Father. To get into right relation with the Father, we must ascend with Him that where He is, there we might be also. (St. John xiv. 3) If we shall ascend, we must ask the Father to help us live through Jesus Christ under the rule and governance of the Spirit they share. Herein alone, we shall find true joy. For this to happen, we must make time and space for contemplation. Bishop K.E. Kirk has this to say about it:
Contemplation, or the Prayer of Simplicity or Quiet, is the highest interior activity of the spiritual life - indeed, it aims not at being an activity at all, but at reducing the soul to a purely passive condition in which it may listen, unimpeded by thoughts of self or the cares of the world, to the voice God alone.'As rest is the end of motion so contemplation is
the end of all other…internal and external exercises; for to this end, by long discourse and much practice of affection, the soul inquires and tends to a worthy object that she may quietly contemplate it and...repose with contentment in it.'
(Some Principles of Moral Theology, p. 163)
Stillness and quiet are necessary to first situate us in the right spiritual space with God. In stillness and quiet, our souls must be reduced to a purely passive condition, open to the Father’s presence -to His Wisdom, Power, and Love. Jesus says today, The time is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in parables, but I will tell you plainly of the Father. (Ibid, 25) In stillness and quiet, in the simplest way, Christ will reveal to us His true nature. His true nature is that He came forth from the Father. (Ibid, 28) St. Thomas tells us that he says this for three reasons: (1) That He might manifest the Father in the world: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the Only Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.’ (St. John i. 18) The Word and Son of God came into the world to reveal the Father’s presence to us. (2) To declare His Father's will to us: ‘All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.’ (St. John xv. 15) The Word of God came into the world to reveal what He has heard of the Father concerning our salvation. (3) That He might show the Father's love towards us: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him….’ (St. John iii. 16) [Easter Homilies: XII] The Word of God came into the world to reveal the Father’s love for us in the death of His Son. This is the Father’s joy. In stillness and quiet, if we contemplate the life of the Word made flesh, we shall find the omnipotent power of God with us in Jesus Christ. This is His joy.
But because everything that Christ said and did for us in time and place came from the Father, Christ must leave us because by His leaving He gives us an example. ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.’ (1 St. John ii. 15) ‘Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.’ (St. John xv. 19) Jesus ascends to the Father for Aquinas that: (1) That he might intercede with Him for us: ‘I will pray the Father.’ (St. John xiv. 16) (2) That He might give to us the Holy Spirit: ‘If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ (St. John xvi. 7) (3) That He might prepare for us a place with the Father: ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ (St. John xiv. 2) To which place may He lead us. (Idem) Jesus is our Lord and pleads our cause with the Father. Jesus leaves us to send the Spirit to incorporate us into His Death and Resurrection inwardly and spiritually. Jesus leaves us to prepare our future home in Heaven with the Father. In this, our hearts should be filled with all gratitude and joy.
God’s Word has been spoken through Jesus Christ in order that we might be redeemed. To be redeemed and saved, we must not only hear it, but desire to obey it (St. James i. 22), as St. James says this morning. St. James insists that we must be willing to obey God’s Word, Jesus Christ, above ourselves, so that in still and silent contemplation we might live in Him. We shall obey Him because this alone leads us to unending joy. Monsignor Knox tells us that being a hearer of God’s Word and not a doer – the man who looks in the mirror and forgets what manner of man he is, is like someone who listens carefully to a reading of Thomas a Kempis’ ‘Imitation of Christ’. He understands it and thinks that the book is really about Christians like himself – he finds a reflection of himself in it. [But] it is only if he will give a good long look at our Lord’s teaching that this self-satisfied person will see the real picture which it conveys, very different indeed from the ‘self-portrait’ that he first found in it! (Epistles and Gospels: Know, p. 138) Contemplating Christ the Word made flesh reveals our own self-portraitsstanding in sharp contrast to whom and what God would have us become in deed and in truth forever. (1 John iii. 18)
The Word made flesh now glorified, pleads our cause and sends His Comforter to recast us in His image and likeness as He prepares a place for us. (Idem) In Christ, our end, we see the perfect law of liberty that moves in and out of the Father’s presence with renewed ease. Christ has perfect liberty and joy. Now, we can ask the Father to reap the harvest of His victory over sin, death, and Satan in us. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. (St. James i. 26) Spiritual silence enables us to think those things that be good, and by God’s merciful guiding may perform the same. (Collect: Rogation Sunday)
Mother Teresa writes this:
n the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself (–with His Holy Spirit.) Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.
(Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World…)
As we contemplate the glorified Christ, we confess that we are empty and nothing, asking the Father to harvest in us the salvation that Christ has won. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-6) By believing in Christ through the Holy Spirit, we can become overcomers. In Him, let us ask for true religion…in silence, visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and keepingourselves unspotted from the world. (Ibid, 27) Then, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we shall be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. (St. John xvi. 33)
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