I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
When I think of fruit that will last, I think of grapes, a bunch of them sitting on my
grandmother’s coffee table. They lasted because they were made of jade. Hard as rock. Real fruit has short shelf life, and bruises easily on its way to making wine or cider or vinegar. And, in the meantime, feeds us.
So when Jesus says he wants you to bear fruit that lasts, you know he means to say something like this: Trust me: your life will last, so don’t worry about holding onto it. Instead take a risk, open up your heart to the world around you, and find a way to grow so fully you become a blessing like love poured out in earth as in heaven. Like fruit that lasts.
Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter, by another name, Rogation Sunday: a day when the Church asks God to pour his blessings out like rain over the newly seeded earth. And here we’re talking real rain over actual earth in the hope of real fruit.
As words go, rogation is from a verb meaning to ask. It’s the kind of asking we’re made to do in the spring, when there’s no better thing to do than to get outside and ask for God’s blessing. Nowadays it’s mostly farmers and gardeners who do the asking. But a long time ago, in Merry Old England, the church priest and the church wardens, followed by a rowdy gang of children, would lead a procession from the church in order to walk the geographical boundaries of the parish.
Then went rogationing. Their procession included bells, prayers, hymns, and banners. And along the way, everybody would come to a stop before a series of boundary markers, and the children would hit the marker with a stick in order to remember where it was, and the priest would bless the fields they passed in the hope of a good harvest come fall, and bless, too, the work of their village.
To be clear, a parish in England isn’t just a church in its own little yard. In England a parish is the whole village around the church. Even in towns where hardly anybody goes to church, the English still think of a parish and a village as the same thing, and it still falls to the village church to ask for God’s blessing on the whole community, and to the church members to find a way to become God’s blessing in that same community.
“Beating the bounds” on Rogation Sunday was essentially marking the perimeter of a whole village or town. For us to go rogationing the way they did, we’d need to walk a large measure of Wilmington Island or at least the length of Johnny Mercer, and along the way stop to ask God’s blessing on our community and on the land that sustains it. No wonder it was mostly children who had energy and heart enough to walk the whole perimeter.
Though I promise we’re not going to walk Johnny Mercer today, I want you to know Rogation Sunday is still here as a gift for you. Here to remind you that you are here to bear much fruit. And here to remind us all to get out more often. We need to discover not only what needs doing, but also who needs the blessing of our doing, the blessings of our life and labor. We need to ask, who is asking for help in our community?
We are too much indoors today. We often lose heart somewhere in the middle of our morning headlines. News from far away has a way of clouding what lives within our reach in need of our attention. Headlines tells us there are volcanic fissures fracturing the earth’s crust in Hawaii: a terrible wounding threat to our nation, and also that NASA has launched an unmanned vessel into space to study the earth of Mars. Or should we call it the mars of Mars?
Earth is a living thing and a mystery. Mars must be, too. And we know this not by headlines but by the land and the people around us. We know it by getting outside.
Wendell Berry says the Bible is an Outdoor Book written by people who knew all about working the land within their reach. Up until two hundred years ago, people knew all about seeds and planting and harvest. They knew about branches that flower to fruit, and harvests that failed to feed them. They knew they depended on the earth, and knew the earth depended on them, as if the will of God was done in the sweet work of their ow two hands. They knew everything relied on blessings beyond them, on the blessing of God.
I learned about seeds for the first time by planting them in a few tablespoons of dirt that somebody else measured out into a paper cup. I didn’t learn about seeds outside. I learned about them in an elementary school classroom. This didn’t teach me the truth of seeds, how they expand when watered and unfurl like people standing up on their way to becoming what they were made to be. God didn’t make seeds to hold onto themselves. God made them to open out onto the world around them and bear fruit.
In the same way, for the same reason, God made us.
In the dirt of every day, God is doing amazing things. And in the depths of every heart, God is doing amazing things. Why? Because God’s will is in you like seed ready to rise up and open out.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we usually pray, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven, but the old King James Version says it differently. And better. Praying, Thy will be done in earth as in heaven. To think of God’s will done in earth is to imagine it done in us: to imagine it done this day in and through our lives flourishing right here where we live.
I believe God the Father tends what he has planted in you. I believe God the Son wants nothing to cramp the unfurling gift of his life in you. And I believe God the Holy Spirit calls you to get out more often, to take a risk and share the many blessings that sustain you.