A Hymn for Rogationtide

Monday, Tuesday, and today are the Rogation Days – days devoted to prayer for the year’s crops.  We’ve mentioned ‘Rogationtide’ briefly recently and looked at the Collects for these days.  On this last day of the trio, let’s take a look at a rogation hymn.  The 2017 hymnal has two hymns for Rogationtide, and the 1940 hymnal has just one, so let’s look at that.  (Sing it to the tune KINGSFOLD.)

O Jesus, crowned with all renown,
Since thou the earth hast trod,
Thou reignest, and by thee come down
Henceforth the gifts of God.
Thine is the health and thine the wealth
That in our halls abound,
And thine the beauty and the joy
With which the years are crowned.

Lord, in their change, let frost and heat,
And winds and dews be giv’n;
All fost’ring power, all influence sweet,
Breathe from the bounteous heav’n.
Attemper fair with gentle air
The sunshine and the rain,
That kindly earth with timely birth
May yield her fruits again.

That we may feed the poor aright,
And, gath’ring round thy throne,
Here, in the holy angels’ sight,
Repay thee of thine own;
That we may praise thee all our days,
And with the Father’s Name,
And with the Holy Spirit’s gifts,
The Savior’s love proclaim.  Amen.

Just as the days, and the first Collect, enjoin us, this hymn expresses a prayer for a successful harvest, as well as attention to the purpose of a good harvest: to feed the poor, make offering to God, praise the Lord, and proclaim Christ’s love to the world.

As a child and teenager, that second stanza would have struck me as silly.  Who sings about the weather?  Plants just grow, crops are produced, if something goes wrong in one place you buy from another.  A child of the 20th century, I did not appreciate the significance of the natural order; many people today probably think this way their entire lives.  And to a large extent, much of the Developed World is able to live that way: if disaster strikes part of the country, certain food prices might increase a little as we import from other places, but on the whole we have the luxury of being unaffected by the weather.  Unless you’re the one whose livelihood just got destroyed, of course.

So singing a song like this is made all the more important in our day and age; it reminds us just how much is involved in the background of growing our food, and providing the many natural resources that go into various other products of commerce and industry.  Our lifestyles may only tangentially be impacted by the weather, even severe weather, but for others it’s critical.  The Rogation Days, and hymns like this one, can help us remember that.

Note: There are other layers to the Rogation Days which have not been explored, or even mentioned, in recent posts on this blog.  Perhaps next year we’ll hit upon some other aspects of Rogationtide, and how they can be observed in the course of private and congregational worship.

The Rogationtide Collects

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are the Rogation Days – days devoted to prayer for the year’s crops.  We’ve mentioned ‘Rogationtide’ briefly recently.  Now that they’re here, let’s narrow in on the liturgical feature of these days that is the most natural to into our daily rounds of prayer: the Collects of the Day.  (We can, and probably ought to, use these as the Collect of the Day in Morning and Evening Prayer on these three days.)

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This Collect reflects the more historical form of the Rogation Days.  It is not the same as the Collect in the 1928 Prayer Book, but takes a rather more expansive view in its petition, now praying for the harvest of land and sea, God’s gift and preservation of both, the prospering of those who labor in those harvests, and for our own sense of thankfulness.

But nowadays the majority of our population aren’t farmers or fishermen, so we’ve got a second Collect for other forms of employment:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give us all a right satisfaction in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

This Collect is a good expression of a biblical theology of work.  We recognize Jesus’ sharing in our labor (implying his decades as a carpenter with St. Joseph), the need to be responsive to God’s will in the workplace (that is, being a faithful worker, judging by several parables of Jesus), a healthy satisfaction in our labor (understanding we were made for work), and a just return (the biblical injunctions concerning paying workers properly).  On their own, any of these four elements of the prayer could be twisted – the first to insubstantial piety, the second to undirected zeal, the third to idolatry, and the fourth to un-tethered social justice championship.  But collected together they form a healthier balance of biblical teaching concerning work and labor and employment.

So make sure you make use of these prayers today and tomorrow! Perhaps one in the morning and one in the evening?  Or both each time?  If you’re a teacher/preacher, that second Collect can also make excellent Bible Study material, especially if you bring up the Scripture readings it’s paired with: Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32, Psalm 107:1-9, 1 Corinthians 3:10-14, and Matthew 6:19-24.

Next week: Rogation Days

Today’s entry is just a reminder: the Rogations Days are next week, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  This coming Sunday is nicknamed Rogation Sunday, as a result.  If you look at a church calendar (or at least, a traditional one) the Rogation Days stand out like a sore thumb – three purple days in a sea of white.

What’s rogation?  Well, rogare is Latin for ask, so a rogation day in the church is a day of prayer.  The rogation days, specifically, are days of prayer and fasting for the year’s crops.  The major time for the sewing and planting of crops is already done, in many climes of the Northern Hemisphere, so this is a point when farmers have done most of what they can, as the Scriptures say “one plants, another waters, but God gives the growth.”  So we stop and pray that God will protect and prosper the crops.

In recent centuries, as Western Christendom has moved out of agriculture-dominated economy and culture, the Rogation Days have taken on additional layers of prayer to cover other forms of business and industry.

Unless your church has a weekday communion service on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, it’s pretty easy for these days to slip by year by year, invisible to the vast majority of Christians.  One of the easiest ways to keep the spirit of Rogationtide is to grab a hymn appointed for Rogation and sing it on the 6th Sunday of (or 5th Sunday after) Easter.