‘Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.’
I know we’re rushing the season a little bit today, but the gradual awakening and greening of creation after the long and dull greyness of winter has us all eager and appreciative and watchful, doesn’t it? Not only for the next new tulips or hostas to appear as if by magic from their long winter’s nap, but also anticipating the fresh local delights like rhubarb and asparagus….which means local strawberries won’t be far behind. Springtime quite naturally turns our attention to growth, potential, opportunity, and hope for new and exciting things to come in the natural and spiritual realm that we inhabit.
In the pre-industrial world, back several centuries ago when the Anglican prayer book was first being constructed, the thing foremost on everyone’s mind at this time of year would have been concern for the success of the upcoming growing season, so it seemed logical and natural to make a connection between the concentrated activity of plowing and planting, and then praying for a fruitful result of that labour: a day of prayer in the Spring to counterbalance the day of thanksgiving for harvest in the Fall. This day of prayer was (and still is) in some quarters called a ‘Rogation’ day – one of those peculiar churchy terms with a Latin root -‘rogare’- which simply means ‘to ask’ – so the original intent of rogation days (like today, only we’ve cleverly renamed it Seedy Sunday) was the activity of asking, petitioning, praying that God’s will would be known and done. So, yes, on one hand today we’re focused on the awakening forces of nature, on the miraculous complexity of the ecosystems of the earth, and on the interdependence of the natural elements and human labour that in co-operation produce what is needed for us to survive. But more than this, the prayer of this day recognizes that the earth and everything in it is God’s, and that in all that we do, it is the will of God that we seek to know and to follow. And if it is God’s will that the earth should erupt with beautiful flowers and lovely tasty things for us to eat, of course, so much the better. But foundational to this understanding is the notion that prayer isn’t a substitute for hard work…. the planting and tending and weeding and watering usually has to happen before any reaping is possible…. and this holds true for anything worthwhile that we undertake. Prayer and work are not alternatives to each other, but rather two sides of the same coin. Indeed, many monastic communities are founded on that very principle: that work and worship are one.
The thing is, in prayer we’re not seeking to align God’s will with ours, or to persuade God to our point of view, but actually we’re trying to do the reverse. We’re really saying, “Not our will, but yours, God, be done in us and through us. Help us to be one of the means by which your Kingdom is grown, and in the process, awaken us to awe and gratitude as we tend and interact with the miracles of growth all around us; and help us to see mirrored there your abundant love for the world you created and entrusted to the care of humankind.” Our privilege today is simply to celebrate the wonder of Creation and our place within it as the new season of growth begins unfolding all around us. Thanks be to God.
This blessing of assembled seedlings and bedding plants followed:
Long before the time of humankind in this world, the fruitful earth brought forth an infinite variety of growing things, each species producing its own seed particular to itself. In an indescribable complexity of temperature and humidity, shelter and exposure, plant and soil, species grew and bred. Human beings in their time began to exercise stewardship, gathering seed and sowing it; diverting streams, clearing trees, digging wells; making their own selection of plants to cultivate and animals to rear. As time has gone on, the human race has at times thought only of its own needs and has forgotten its place in the created order, forgetting also the particular good that is in each created living thing. And yet, we grow gradually in wisdom, learning to trust the miracle of growth and appreciating its mystery. And so today, in thankfulness and humility for the gift of creation, we raise to God our prayer for our seeds, bedding plants, gardens, flowers, fields, farms, and livestock, asking God to bless them in this growing season, and to bless the whole earth, and to keep us mindful of the miracle of increase that is ours to witness, and ours to share. Amen.
The Venerable Nancy Adams