This weekend is rogationtide. It is part of the church’s agricultural year – along with plough Sunday and harvest. One of the ancient rogationtide traditions is to beat the bounds, that is, to walk the boundaries of the parish. This might have been a grand procession with crucifer, acolytes, statues of the Virgin , Mary or the patron saint, robed clergy etc…, or a more modest affair where choirboys got into skirmishes with the lads from a neighbouring parish… Whatever the scale, the purpose was essentially the same: to pray for the parish, encircling the fields that would provide food for the coming winter. The people would ask God’s blessing on their fields and so acknowledge their dependence on God for the coming harvest and, by extension, their well-being.
This year I will probably not be beating the bounds of Sleaford (as I have occasionally done). Even with the slight relaxing of the lockdown and the possibility of unlimited exercise (one friend commented to me that of all the things they might wish to be unlimited, exercise was not one of them!) which means beating the bounds is possible, my thoughts about rogation have gone in a different direction this year. The text for the week is from the Old Testament reading for rogationtide. The people of Israel have been in the wilderness for 40 years but now they are about to enter the promised land. The wilderness experience is a major theme in Israel’s self-understanding. It was in the wilderness that they learned about God and their dependence on God.
For many the last 8 weeks have been a bit like a wilderness: a spiritual wilderness, a social wilderness, an employment wilderness. These past few weeks I have been thinking about what it means for the doors of the church to be locked. I’m not so concerned for the regular congregation but I am concerned for those who often popped into the church to find a quiet place to think and prayer and find peace and sanctuary in the midst of busy (and sometimes confusing) lives. I am thinking of those unable to work – furloughed on 80% of their salary – and the financial insecurity that goes with it. I am thinking of those who are isolated, lonely, unable to get out, unable to see family or friends.
This rogationtide it is more important than ever that we pray for our town and community, and ask God’s blessing on us all, that by his grace and mercy our community may one again flourish and that through this wilderness experience we may have learned more about ourselves, our priorities and our need of God.