This Easter season has been filled with many joyous occasions but also much sorrow for our congregation. This past week has felt particularly heavy. Several of our members are facing difficult and challenging circumstances, from health issues to house issues to the sudden death of a loved one. Some of our members are burying a parent, while others are burying a child. These trials and griefs might seem to be at odds with the Easter proclamation of Jesus’s victory over death and suffering. However, I am convinced that it is precisely in the midst of suffering that the Easter proclamation is most needed. In fact, the burial liturgy is an Easter liturgy. One of the lines in the burial service that has always stuck with me is this: “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” We can rejoice and be glad even at the grave because we know the resurrection is coming. This does not mean that we do not weep and feel sorrow, but that our weeping has meaning and a deeper purpose. Our weeping waters the ground from which new life will one day spring up.
As Psalm 126 puts it:
Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
It is this piece of the Easter proclamation that points us to a time of fasting that is embedded in the Easter Season. On the sixth week of Easter (next Sunday, May 6), we observe Rogation Sunday. You have probably never heard of Rogation Sunday. The term ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin word rogatio which means “to ask.” This fast begins three days (called Rogation Days) where the Church asks God to bless the fruits of the earth. The Rogation Days originated in Vienne, France, in the fifth century when Bishop Mamertus introduced days of fasting and prayer for a fruitful season. In England, they were associated with the blessing of the fields at planting. The priest would process around the fields reciting prayers for a good harvest. In the U.S., they have been associated with agriculture and fishing and were also expanded to include commerce and industry and the stewardship of creation.
Planting seeds is a faith-filled endeavor. Farmers cannot make the buried seed burst into new life. In the same way, when Christians bury our dead, we do it in faith that God will cause the body watered in our tears burst into new life. As Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). We bury our dead in confidence that we who have sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Resurrection is the reward of Rogation.