It's the time of the year when the land has awakened and started brimming with green life. Snow has melted and rains have com. Trees have budded forth and blossomed. It's as if all of the Earth is giving the Hebrew toast "L'Chaim!", To Life! And, of course, since it's Easter season, the ongoing celebration of Jesus' exhilarating resumption of life after his harrowing and mournful death, that's the Church's joyous toast as well, "L'Chaim!", To Life! It seems, however, that we Christians wring everything out of Lent (with extra services and maybe a bit of fasting) but get past Easter Day worn out, limp, and simply glad that Lent is over so that we can return to business as usual as if nothing at all has changed, as if we haven't just been brought into a brand new land of resurrection.
Hear again what Moses spoke to the people when leaving the desert for the land of promise: Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. How he let you hunger and fed you with manna. For the Lord your God is brining you into a good land a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing. Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments. Beware lest you say in your heart, "˜My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.'
Full and abundant life resounds with gratitude for the Lord's deliverance; it reverberates with attentiveness to all that he has given us and called us to live out. That's why the psalmist wrote about those who planted in tears harvesting with shouts of joy, because they remember the great things the Lord has done and are filled with gladness. The sweat, tears, and death of the first Adam's exile from the garden have been overtaken by the living, dying, and rising of the final Adam, the risen Christ who brings us joyously into the garden of life. We're not to see this world or our lives the same as always since Adam's sin; no! An amazing change has happened through Jesus' resurrection. Death is swallowed up in victory, Paul cites in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, and it has all been done by the final Adam, Jesus, the life-giving one. Creation is not only fallen, shot through with sorrow, death, and devastation, it has been redeemed and therefore radiates glory, life, and restoration through the risen Jesus. To life! Indeed!
So, how do we live in this land of resurrection? Jesus said: The kingdom of God is like a man scattering seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows like a mystery to him. It's also like a mustard seed which goes from a tiny speck to a towering source of shade and home for nesting birds.
There's a tremendous but largely forgotten observance which all Christians would do well to rediscover and put into practice, especially as people keep getting more and more lost in technological gadgets and separated from the natural world; it's called Rogate, Latin for "Pray." Since the 6th century, the last Sunday of Eastertide has been observed as Rogate Sunday, and the three days following (which lead to Ascension Thursday) have been known as Rogation Days. Those days of observance in the Christian calendar began in the late 5th century when a French bishop by the name of Mamertus encouraged people to make processions of prayer through fields, pastures, and along the waterside, invoking God's blessing after a devastating period of earthquakes, pestilence, and famine. Martin Luther, troubled by the raucous festivals they had become in his time, wrote a pamphlet in 1519 called On Rogationtide Prayer and Procession. In it, he encouraged people to reclaim Rogationtide's true purpose. Here's some of what he said which applies to now as much as then:
we must pray that God may graciously protect the crops in the field and cleanse the air, not only that God may send blessed rain and good weather to ripen the fruit, but rather that the fruit may not be poisoned, and we, together with the animals, eat and drink and become infected with pestilence. St. Paul declares that "the creatures are blessed and sanctified by the word of God and prayer [1 Timothy 4:4-5] [Then, after citing how people have taken for granted God's blessing of abundance and given themselves over to drunkenness and idleness, along with all sorts of dishonorable behavior, Luther stated that it would almost be better for the fields not to be productive: For to be sated [satisfied] and idle is the greatest plague on earth, the source of all other plagues. Then this:] In our day there is truly a need for daily processions accompanied by a scourging of the body and directed against the visibly rising deluge of all kinds of sin, especially in this country of so much gluttony, tippling [excessive drinking], idleness, and what stems from these, in the hope that God might give us grace to use his gifts to our soul's salvation and the betterment of our life, and thus become the means for maintaining and increasing the health of our body and soul (42:91-2).*
Whether it was the people whom Moses addressed before entering the land of promise or the indulgent and indifferent of Luther's day or our own, we're called and equipped by the Holy Spirit to live in this Creation Christ has restored. Let's bring back the Rogation blessing of land and water in the midst of so much wastefulness, pollution, and selfishness!
To be baptized into Jesus' dying and rising means that we take up our tasks in this land of the living with thankfulness and mindfulness. Partaking of Christ's body and blood through the gifts of bread and wine (which we wouldn't have if it weren't for good soil and water, seed and harvest and all who have a part in their collaborative creation) means that we go forth to live out his forgiveness and gracious care for all of Creation. Let's go in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to live attentively the joyous feast of Christ's resurrection. To life! To life! (This ending is to be said responsively as a "toast" with empty hands upraised in front of the chest, signifying that as our Lord fills our empty hands, so our hands should be emptied by giving to those desperate for the needs of daily life.)
*Luther's Works, ed. Martin O. Dietrich, trans. Martin H. Bertram, Vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969).
Going Further: Gather a reading group and discuss Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country, or have a film discussion session and watch The Tree of Life. Look for themes of suffering giving way to realized hope that tie into Lent leading to Easter and spring.