As I write here in Shelby County, Ohio, April is givng way to May and the calendar says it’s Spring. Alas, recent weather reports and conversation quips from here and across the country say something quite different.
• From a friend in Upper Wisconsin: “It’s not mid-April, it’s January 96th.”
• From Pennsylvania comes word: There’s a contract out on Punxsutawney Phil and recipes for preparing groundhog are being amassed. Anyone for a Groundhog Chili Cookoff? Prolonged winter and cabin fever will bring such thoughts to mind.
• Closer to home: Farm ground, saturated by spring rains, recently turned some homesteads into waterfront properties. Farmers are poised to get into their fields once they dry out and stay dry.
• Elsewhere, it’s the opposite. Prairies and hillsides burn, the result of dry lightning in a drier season. Still other fields shrivel, turning promising winter wheat crops into feed for “four-legged harvesters” – cattle and sheep – instead of full harvests a few months from now.
• Recent Facebook posts have shown prayer requests along with photos of cows, shoulder-deep in blowing, drifting snow, and ranchers working through blizzards to tend flocks and herds. Livestock don’t wait for daylight and balmy temperatures to give birth to their young. Good shepherds and cowboys know this all too well.
• Home gardeners, itching to get their fingers into the warming soil, get the word. April 28-29: Overnight freeze alert issued for Shelby and surrounding counties.
Maybe you, too, have turned eyes heavenward this strange spring, asking for relief. “How long, O Lord?” “How long until Spring really comes?”
Among the churches of Christ that follow the Christian year’s calendar, another sign or Spring is close at hand. This is the season for Rogation Day observance — Christianity’s traditional days for blessing fields and flocks, farm implements and all things agricultural. Traditionally, Rogation is observed on April 25, along with minor rogation days on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Ascension Day. That’s Monday, May 7, through Wednesday, May 9, in 2018
“Rogation” comes from the Latin word rogare, which means “to ask,” Asking God for relief is how Rogation observances got started.
Back in A.D. 470, in what we now know as France, storms and wildfires pounded the land, as did Gothic invaders, wild animals, plagues and earthquakes. Bishop Mamertus of Vienne called the people to prayer, worship and fasting in what would become an annual observance. All around the countryside they would march invoking divine protection and providence through the chanting of the Litany of the Saints.
Over hundreds of years, these three days of prayerful asking evolved to include formal marking of parish boundaries and blessing of fields. In our time and in some places, the three days focus on, say, agriculture on one day, commerce on another, and care of creation on another. In some traditions or contexts, the three-day observance might even be transferred to another day or occasion more closely connected to local growing conditions and circumstances. (Here at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jackson Center, we observed Rogationtide last Sunday, April 29.) We blessed seed that will soon be planted, agricultural tools of many kinds, and we prayed for God to watch over farmers and ranchers, and gardeners — all who tend the soil which brings forth our food. We prayed for safety in the fields and on rural roads, favorable planting and growing conditions, and an abundant harvest to come.
My prayer is that you will observe Rogation Days, too, with prayers and observances in your congregations, at your farms and backyard gardens, even if you must venture out in winter jackets and mud boots. Here’s a Psalm to remind you of God’s peace and provision, regardless of how unusual the current times and seasons seem.
Jerusalem, worship God!
Zion, praise your God!
He made your city secure,
he blessed your children among you.
He keeps the peace at your borders,
he puts the best bread on your tables.
He launches his promises earthward—
how swift and sure they come!
He spreads snow like a white fleece,
he scatters frost like ashes, He broadcasts hail like birdseed—
who can survive his winter?
Then he gives the command and it all melts;
he breathes on winter—suddenly it’s spring!
Psalm 147:12-18, The Message
Amen and amen.