Rogation Sunday, 2008

Rogation Sunday, the Fifth Sunday after Easter
27 April 2008
Verses 11, 13 of St. Luke 11:1-13
“The Missing Bread”
by Kenneth S. Kubo, Lay Reader

“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give a stone? … If ye then [, being evil], know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” – St. Luke 11:11,13

Let me first welcome you to Rogation Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter (in the Western church). Today, it is also the commemoration of Easter for our Orthodox brethren. It also marks the end of the observance of Pesach or Passover for the Jewish people. I’d like to begin with a quick explanation of these separate but related celebrations, in part to give you all something to talk about at cocktail parties (if you go to cocktail parties with people who like to discuss liturgical history) and mostly because I’ve been asked about this by several people over the past few weeks.

The Western church observed the days leading up to Ascension as a time of special prayer – in particular via litanies and processions – to ask for God’s blessing and mercy. The name comes from the Latin rogare, meaning “to ask” and comes from the Gospel reading for today, “…Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23). You hear this echoed in the reading for Morning Prayer from the Gospel of Luke, “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Luke 11:9). In the northern climes, this was also a time for the blessing of crops at the sowing, as reflected in the psalms for the day and the processional hymn. One of the traditions, particularly in the Anglican church, was for the minister and parishoners to walk the boundaries of the parish and pray for its protection for the coming year. As our boundaries are fairly limited (or extremely wide, depending on whether you judge by land or the distance between our furthest parishioners), our observance was the use of the Litany today.

Now, why are there two separate Easters and how do they relate to Passover? Both the Western and Eastern church tradition use the same formula – “The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.” However, they differ in the calendar used, the method used to define the vernal equinox, and even the measurement of the fullness of the moon. The Orthodox church also requires that Easter follow Passover. As a result, the celebration of the two Easters is typically around a month apart, although they can fall on the same day (as they did last year). By tradition, Easter is tied to the Passover celebration. Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Jewish Calendar. As such, it may fall on any day of the week, but always approximately the same season. More often than not, it falls between the two celebrations of Easter. So now you know the confusing story – you should also know that since AD 325, there have been efforts across Christendom to get to one unified celebration, but so far progress has been a bit slow.

This year, Passover brought its own special challenges to Southern California – I speak of the great Southern Californian Matzo Famine of 2008. For those of you who might have missed this crisis, there was a shortage of matzo across Southern California, driven largely by the decision of chain grocery stores to stop or reduce sales of the product. Many Passover observances had to make do with rationed portions, find acceptable substitutes, or even go without for some of the week. In other words, they didn’t have the option to get bread; perhaps some of them had to make do with a stone. It does truly make one stop and think about our daily bread – and how often we may take it for granted.

As a metaphor, bread represents sustenance – everything needful for survival of the body. As Christians, Bread (with a capital “B”) represents our Bread of Life, the Spiritual Body of our Lord and Savior, which is everything needful for our eternal survival, the sustenance of our spirits. In the sacrament of Holy Communion, the unleavened bread is a physical symbol of that greater reality. It has been important for our Jewish neighbors (and should be for us as well) that the reality exists even when the physical symbol isn’t stocked at the supermarket. Yet, it’s harder to depend on just inner vision alone – we are very much creatures of the physical world and our culture drives us to trust only what we can see and hear with our senses – even though we also know that technology has made it possible to fool those senses – any good special effects movie makes that case. In the end, all perception is ultimately a leap of faith.

As we move through these Sundays after Easter, we should always keep in mind the greatest case of “Missing Bread” – that morning when a rock tomb was found empty. Remember that during those days, the physical symbol of rabbi, teacher, healer, and spiritual leader had been taken from the Apostles, first by Roman soldiers and then by the cruelest of executions. The empty tomb was the final blow – the loss of the last trace of Jesus’ life and ministry. Many of the companions were confused and lost. Even when Our Lord appeared to some of their number, they were slow to recognize and accept what had happened. Thomas, who would probably have made a great engineer, demanded personal physical evidence before he would believe. And he got his evidence, and he believed, and Our Lord blessed all those of us who would follow, who would only see with the eyes of faith, and yet still believe.

This Thursday we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. Our Lord spent forty days with his chosen, teaching and shaping them for the task ahead. For those who had only just recovered from the grief and joy of the Resurrection, having to lose Him yet again would seem to be even more painful. Yet the Gospel of Luke records only that “…he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy…” (Luke 24:49). What had changed? A lot can happen in forty days.

Until the Bread was missing, there was no need for faith. If you can see and touch and hear something, your sense of that reality is direct and physical. What the disciples had to learn was to make the leap from companions and students to truly being “the faithful”. And doubtless, the Ascension was easier to bear because, although Our Lord was missing, they had a pretty good idea who took him and where he was.

Our challenge is greater – we must see only with the eyes of faith. With personal experience, the disciples had, as it were, a breadbox – a space reserved for Our Lord’s physical presence. We don’t have that advantage. Through study of the Scriptures, through Church tradition, through the guidance of our Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, we can begin to grasp the sight and feel and sound of Our Lord, to build within ourselves a vessel that will hold a place for him – to make a fit place for Our Lord’s presence in our hearts and in our lives. We are promised that our Father in Heaven will provide for us, that he will give us all that we need – all we must do is ask – rogare or, in the imperative, rogate! “[You] ask!” – and he will plant his Holy Name within our hearts.

The Prophet Elijah, daunted by challenges, beset by the world, and fearing for his life, was guided to stand upon the mountain before the Lord: “And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings: 19:11-12)

Living in California as we do, we know and understand earthquakes. This church and the surrounding communities are no stranger to fires. And anyone who lives in the North Valley or anywhere the Santa Anas blow knows about wind. We’re not so good with “still small voices.” Those others are easy to see – they reserve themselves space in our lives without us having to try. Our challenge is trying to make space for something quiet – or even harder, something missing! That tabernacle above the altar is a breadbox, holding a physical symbol. But what happens when that bread is consumed? What happens when it disappears before our eyes? What happens when the tomb is empty? Something wonderful. Something bigger than ourselves that we are a continuing part of. Something that fills our eyes of faith with the light of love. The real secret is that the Bread isn’t missing at all! In fact, like the best magic show illusion, it’s never even left. It’s right here with us, and all we have to do is ask for that Bread to fill up the spaces we make for it. Our duty and privilege is to create that (the tabernacle) anew within our hearts.

[A visual demonstration on the importance of making space: the difference between “God is nowhere” (too often the message of the world) and “God is now here” is the space we leave for Him. If we leave the space outside our lives as an afterthought, the message doesn’t change. But the “magic” happens when we make that space in the middle of our lives.]

Gracious Father, grant us this and every day our sustaining Bread. Loving Son, strengthen our courage and weaken our pride that we may ask when we have need. Comforting spirit, expand our hearts and our days that we may make space to receive your gifts. Blessed Trinity, be ever with us and open our eyes of faith that we may see your presence working within us and within the world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.