Easter V, Rogation Sunday.  May 6, 2018.  All Saints’, Aiken, SC

Saint John xvi, verse 33 – These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. 

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

The Common Prayer Book calls today ‘The Fifth Sunday after Easter, commonly called Rogation Sunday’.  ‘Rogation’ comes from the Latin verb, rogare, meaning ‘to ask’, and the gospel today speaks of asking the Father for things in Christ’s name.  So the great theme of the day is prayers of asking:  both prayer that ask God for something for myself, which we call supplication, and prayers that ask God for something for others, which we call intercession.

Prayer is, if we think about it, an odd thing.  Why do we pray if we believe God is all-knowing and all-good?  If he knows all things, including what I want and need, and if he wills good for me, What is the point of telling him what he already knows?

To give an example, yesterday and the day before yesterday this week were the feasts of the Conversion of Saint Augustine of Hippo and of his mother, S. Monica.  We know a good deal about these two because of Augustine’s great autobiography, The Confessions.  In that book we learn that Monica was a Christian, that her husband, Patricius, was not, and that their son, Augustine, was not baptized.  Augustine tells us that his mother prayed constantly for his conversion and baptism, which only happened well into his adulthood after he had lived a very modern American kind of life, having a child out of wedlock and joining an off-beat Eastern religious cult.  In any case, Augustine says – perhaps ‘claims’ would be a better term – that it was not possible that so many tears and prayers would have gone unanswered by God.

That is, of course, a moving tribute from a son to his mother’s love and faith and persistence.  But in truth don’t you and I often want something keenly and pray for it fervently and yet it does not come?  We must believe that God knows better than I do what is for the best, but how can we tell when ‘thy will be done’ at the end of my prayer means that I will get my heart’s desire, as did Monica, or that I will not?  So again, why do we ask for things in prayer?

There are several answers, but one of the best is that prayer teaches us humility.  Why do we pray, when God already knows what we need?  We pray that we may learn to be humble.

Let me explain.  Suppose that John and Jim both go to the same restaurant on the same day and around the same time.  John and Jim both order the same things for dinner.  Both pay for their dinners with money which both have earned by working similar jobs and left similar tips.  Now to the outward observer, John and Jim have done identical things in very similar circumstances.  There is little difference between them or what they have done and experienced.  They ate the same food, paid the same amount, and will get similar nutritional value.

But now consider the matter from another angle.  John is a man wholly immersed in the world. He gives no thought to God.  Prayer is entirely foreign to him.  He has in his own mind earned his own money and now he provides for his own dinner by paying for what he gets.  John is part of a closed system in which he is self-made and self-sufficient.  He has asks nothing of anybody for which he is unwilling to pay.  And God is for John an unnecessary hypothesis.

In contrast, Jim prayed that morning for his daily bread.  Jim is conscious of the fragility of life and of the way time has of rushing past.  Jim sees that everything is a gift, beginning with the life and health that enable him to earn a living and including the love and care of parents and teachers and friends who have brought him where he is.  Jim’s prayer doesn’t change the way the kitchen cooks his dinner and it does not alter his digestive processes.  But Jim’s prayer is an act of humility, an act through which he accepts what is given in life, even when it is given in response to his own actions.  Jim accepts all as a gift, as a wonder, as moments that come from God and lead back to God and whose purpose rests in God.  John and Jim seem completely the same in their dinner, but John and Jim have completely different approaches to the world, completely different hearts and intentions.

Prayer, and prayer of asking in particular, is the line that separates John and Jim.  Prayer is the key that converts self-sufficiency and pride into humility, love, and gratitude.  Prayer, which in one sense changes nothing, in another sense changes everything.  Prayer changes the eye of the beholder and opens up an inner eye that sees through the surface to the heart of things.

Our Lord, at the end of today’s gospel, tells his disciples that the things he has just taught them, about asking the Father and doing so in his name, that these things are designed ‘that in me ye might have peace’.  It seems likely to me that John and Jim do differ at least in their stress levels.  Jim is quite likely, whatever his health or his difficulties, to possess a kind of peace that John does not.  If we pray faithfully, and if we accept that what we receive is sent by God in his love and in his providential care for us, then even the hardest, most bitter things in life are changed. Prayer transfigures burdens into gifts.  And prayer also transforms the pleasant things – the good dinner and the wonderful conversation and the happy circumstances.  Prayer changes these good things also, so that they become, not just passing pleasures, but graces, blessings, that have an eternal significance and an enduring purpose.  Nothing good for Christians ever finally dies.  And everything evil is passing away as a shadow in the night.  Death dies, life lives.  That simple conviction is, I think, what Christ means by ‘peace’.  In him we have peace, because in him we know that even betrayal and abandonment and pain and crucifixion will be swallowed up.  We know this because we see it in him, we see it in Easter, and we experience it as we live in him.

So now as Eastertide draws towards its close, have peace.  Pray to God for your daily bread, and receive it and everything else with humility.  This has our Lord spoken to you, that in him you might have peace.

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

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