W Bro Rev'd Aled Lewis - Provincial Grand Chaplain
Next Thursday is Ascension Day, when the church remembers Jesus’ ascension to heaven at the end of his period of ministry following his resurrection from the dead. Whenever I think of the Ascension I am always amused by the early artistic interpretations of the event many of which show a cloud and just two feet sticking out as Jesus went up to heaven!
The Sunday before Ascension, today, is called Rogation Sunday, taken from the Latin rogare – ‘ask’. In Welsh Sul y Gweddiau, the Sunday of Prayers, which always strikes me as being slightly strange as each day, let alone a Sunday, should be a day of prayer. Anyway, the Rogation Days are an ancient tradition of the Church when prayer and fasting is prescribed during early Summer with particular attention given to praying for the harvest. Indeed the practice can be traced back to the pagan observance of ‘Robugalia’ which took the form of processions through the cornfields to pray for the preservation of the crops from mildew.
Such Christian processions can be traced back to 747 in England, and may have been observed in Wales before then. They were originally suppressed at the Reformation but under Elizabeth I it became a requirement to perambulate the parish during Rogationtide, hence the custom still practiced in some areas today of beating the bounds of the parish.
I suspect that many more people are familiar with the Harvest Festival, when we give thanks for the harvest, than with Rogation Day, when we ask God for a good harvest. Comparatively it is easier to say thank you for something which we receive, than it is to ask for something. There can be a natural reticence in asking, perhaps because we do not want to show our ignorance, or because we do not want to show some other weakness, that we have to rely on another.
I guess that for similar reasons most people find it difficult to pray, and in particular to ask of God than to give thanks to God for favours already received. Again it is so telling of human nature that we find it easier to pray, find it easier to ask of God, when we are in times of need, than when we are in times of plenty. How many more people are praying for themselves, those they love and for their countries during the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Psalm 30 summarises and reflects the human condition so accurately to my mind. We read:
“As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By thy favour, O Lord
Thou hadst established me as a strong mountain;
Thou didst hide thy face,
I was dismayed.”
No, none of us can rest on our laurels at any time and assume that we are invincible! So how does the Psalmist respond to this dire calamity?
“To thee O Lord I cried;
And to the Lord I made supplication…
… Hear me O Lord and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be thou my helper.”
And God hearing prayer responds:
“Thou hast turned for me my mourning in to dancing;
Thou hast loosed my sackcloth
And girded me with gladness”
There is always a danger that when we pray we think that we are trying to persuade God to change his mind in some way, as if we know better than God. If what we pray for doesn’t happen we question whether God heard our prayer, and if so why he did not answer it, or we question the very existence of God himself.
When we pray, we talk to God and in our prayers God talks to us, if we give him that opportunity and if we are prepared to listen to his voice. As we pray we come to understand that God’s ways are not our ways and that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. What we want, what we think is best is not always what God wants or what God knows to be best. It is by engaging with God in prayer that we are able to enter in to a deeper relationship with our Creator and Sustainer.
Psalm 30 concludes:
“that my soul may praise thee and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.”
Whatever happens to us, we always have reason to praise God and to give thanks to God.
Please join me in these prayers:
Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, in whom we live and move and have our being: we beseech thee to send thine abundant blessing upon the earth that it may bring forth its fruits in due season; and grant that we, being filled with thy bounty, may evermore give thanks to thee, who art the giver of all good; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Be with us Lord in all our prayers, and direct our way toward the attainment of salvation, that among the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may always be defended by your gracious help, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.