The Rogation Days – traditionally the three days preceding Ascension Day – are a time for prayers of petition. The roots of these days in rural England is reflected in the timing of the days to coincide with the planting of crops in that part of the world, in prayers for the land and crops, and in the tradition of Rogation processions to bless the fields. In our current prayer book, readings and collects for the three days focus on these traditional rural concerns the first day, commerce and industry the second day, and stewardship of creation the third day.
Even though Rogation Days are ignored by many in the church today, we are blessed to have inherited the tradition of setting aside days to pray for the conditions we need to grow good crops, for industries and commercial ventures that are responsive to God’s will and that provide workers a just return for their labor, and for stewardship of creation. Rogation Sunday – the Sunday before Ascension Day – and the Rogation Days can be more than a wistful nod back to a charming tradition. This season of Rogation can be reclaimed to give us a time to talk about, think about, and pray about some vital issues.
The second of the Rogation Days leads us to reflection on the meaning and purpose of work. Today many more Episcopalians are involved in some form of commerce or industry than are involved in planting and harvesting fields. The Collect for Day II -- “For commerce and industry” -- asks for God’s presence in the workplace, for those involved in commerce and industry to be responsive to God’s will; it asks that we might find pride in our work and have “a just return for our labor”.
The Gospel lesson (Matthew 6: 19-24) reminds us that no one can serve both God and wealth. One of them must take priority over the other. This would count as a fairly radical notion in some circles today, suggesting as it does that the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of righteousness are two very different things. Jesus isn’t saying that it’s wrong to make a living or even to do very well at it; he is saying that there are some things more important than maximizing profits for the wealthy. Those things would include what the Collect mentions – doing work that is responsive to God’s will rather than working against God’s will, making sure that workers are paid fairly, being people of integrity who invite God into the workplace rather than compartmentalizing business and faith.
When we get our priorities straight and live according to our Christian values throughout the week, we end up doing our work in a way that upholds good stewardship of all our resources. We know that God has given us the gifts of land, water, air, and an amazingly diverse world of living things, and that care of those gifts must come before the accumulation of wealth. When we serve God first above all else, we see the necessity of sacrificing some wealth and luxuries and comforts for the long-term benefit of humankind and the rest of creation. The implications for industries employing practices such as mountaintop removal, fracking, and tar sands extraction are clear.
For commerce and industry
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 to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labot; 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. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 259)