EASTER V – Vocem jucunditatis
Introit: With a voice of singing declare ye this, and let it be heard, alleluia: utter it even unto the ends of the earth: the Lord hath delivered his people, alleluia, alleluia.
Psalm 66. O be joyful in God, all ye lands, sing praises unto the honour of his Name: make his praise to be glorious.
Collect: O Lord, from whom all good things do come, grant unto us thy humble servants: that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be good; and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord: After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. (Jeremiah 29.10-14)
Alleluia. Christ is risen, and hath shewed light unto us: whom he hath redeemed with his most precious Blood. Alleluia.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1.22-27)
Alleluia. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and go to the Father. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (St John 16.23-33)
The Fifth Sunday after Easter is often called Rogation Sunday, from the Latin word “rogare” meaning “to pray” or “to ask,” because it is immediately followed by the three Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day. But it is called “Rogation Sunday” also, no doubt, because the theme of “Rogation” or asking is introduced in today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you … Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Rogationtide has traditionally been set aside as “Days of Solemn Prayer,” particularly for God’s blessing on the spring planting. In earlier days (and still today in some parishes) Rogation ceremonies would include processions with readings, litanies, and psalms, through the fields, and often around the entire perimeter of the parish—a custom known as “beating the bounds.” These traditions serve as an important reminder that, even though most of us may be urban or suburban folk, we are still dependent upon the land, and that the Christian Faith is essentially incarnational—that is, that God uses material things in order to communicate His grace to us.
The Gospel readings for these past three Sundays have been from John 16, part of Our Lord’s “farewell discourse” at the Last Supper. Last week, He promised that when He goes to the Father He will send the Holy Spirit to be with His disciples (including us) forever. Today He tells them that when He returns to the Father, they will be able to pray to the Father in His Name. It is important for us to recognize that Jesus’ return to the Father was not merely spiritual. Just as His resurrection was a bodily resurrection, His ascension was a bodily ascension. The Incarnation has never ended. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became man, is man, and will be man forever and ever. Through the Ascension, our humanity has been assumed into heaven, and Jesus, as true Man as well as true God, is sitting “on the right hand of the Father,” where He “ever liveth to make intercession for us.” (Hebrews 7.25)
“Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” What does that mean? “In Jesus’ Name” is not some magical formula that obligates God to answer our prayers. It means that we are praying with Jesus’ authority, and as His representatives. We are praying as members of Christ’s Body, who have been united to Him in His death and resurrection. In Christian prayer, then, we are taken up into the life of God Himself. Jesus says that the Father loves us, because we have loved Jesus and believed that He came from God. Thus our faith in Him is the basis for our access to the Father. We cannot muster up that faith in ourselves, as we heard last week, but we receive it as a gift of God’s grace.
So, how do we pray “in Jesus’ Name”? First, our prayer must be consistent with His Will as revealed in the Scriptures. We cannot pray for something sinful or foolish and expect God to honour that prayer. The implication is that we will pray better as we know our Bible better. Prayer is placing our lives in the perspective of God’s Word and God’s Will, lifting up all we are, all we do, and all our circumstances to Him. And as we hold them up before God in Jesus’ Name, we see them differently. Our prayer does not change God’s eternal purpose, but it does change us. Prayer does not help us to get what we want; prayer helps us to want what we get.
Neither is prayer about letting God know what is going on in the world or in our lives, nor about trying to convince God to be gracious and loving. Prayer is about our embracing God’s Will, not about bringing Him around to ours. We pray always, in the end, “Thy will be done.” We pray from a position of trust in Jesus and His goodness. Christian Prayer is also the Lord’s Prayer, for the Head is one with the Body. So whenever we pray, Jesus is praying with and in us. Such prayer, Our Lord says, is always answered. “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jer 29.12&13)
Our Lord’s call to prayer in today’s Gospel is matched by James’ call to action in the Epistle: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” James points out the difficulty we all have in taking God’s Word to heart and applying it in our lives—the difference between what we hear and what we do, between “the nobility of our Creed and the depravity of our deed.” Reciting the Creed is one thing; living the Creed is another matter entirely. That is James’ point: Belief, unless you live it, is only self-deception. And this is what our Collect is alluding to when we prayed: “Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same.”
At the conclusion of today’s Epistle, James tells us that “pure religion” (i.e., faith in action) is: “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world.” The worthiness and necessity of Christian charity is evident enough. But we must not forget the conclusion to that definition: “To keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Our life in Christ places us at odds with the world, because the world sees and judges according to a very different set of values. But Our Lord warns us about this: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” In all our service to the world in Christ’s Name, we must not espouse worldly attitudes, values, and perspectives, but live in an attitude of perpetual prayer which seeks always the Will of God, conforms to the Word of God, and sees and values all things from that viewpoint. Then we too, in His Name, overcome the world.
Our Lord concludes: “These things have I said unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” These words came just hours before He would be crucified, and the lives of the disciples would be rocked to their very foundations. Soon this Messiah they had hoped for and believed in would die a horrible death, and they would be living in fear for their own lives. Jesus wants us to have His peace, but we cannot have the peace of God until we have peace with God, and that comes through the finished work of Christ in His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. As St. Paul tells us in Philippians: “Be anxious about nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4.6&7)
We too live in a world of turmoil. Wars are being fought all around us. Even in our own country, more and more evident is the war of ideologies and cultures. Some of us have gone through or are going through really rough times. Some of us feel overwhelmed with all the stuff going on in the world. When we pray “in Jesus’ Name,” He gives us His peace. From the world’s perspective that makes no sense. These situations don’t just evaporate because we prayed. But Christ assures us that He has indeed overcome the world. He reminds us of the long view—the bigger picture, realizing that God is indeed in control, even when all the evidence of our lives seems to be telling us differently. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jer 29.11) The noted 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.” Ultimately, that is the essence of Rogation Sunday: we can go to God in prayer in Jesus’ Name, because Jesus has demonstrated in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension that God is all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful, and that He loves us infinitely. So take courage, Christ has overcome the world!
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things of the earth; for you have died, and your life is now hid with Christ in God.” (Col. 3.1)
Kristur er upprisinn!
Christ is risen!
Collect: [Rogation Days] Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, who in our affliction put our trust in thy goodness: may ever be defended by thy protection against all adversities; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
“The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13.20-21)”