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Easter 6 May 21, 2017 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for May 21, 2017 Rogation Sunday
One of the questions I ask my students on a quiz is this: “How does one determine the date of Easter?” Here are some of the answers they offer: “Look on a calendar,” “Ask your priest or minister,” “Google it,” and one of my favorites, “The pope knows: ask him.” Of course, none of those responses answer the question asked, an answer that is quite simple: Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Spring Equinox, March 21.  First Sunday, full moon, March 21: it’s fairly simple formula. But, then, as one student asked me: “Why should anyone care about the formula when Easter Sunday is noted on almost every calendar, digital or in print?”
Fair enough, I say. But the dating of Easter – and not only Easter but also Christmas, All Saints, All Souls, Advent, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, the feast of St. Mary the Virgin in mid-August – suggests to you me – all of us urban dwellers – that the way we mark time in the Christian faith is deeply rooted in the cycles of the earth itself. In about a month, at the Summer Solstice, we will mark the feast of St. John the Baptist, the one who said in reference to Christ, “I must decrease that he might increase” – a reference to the gradual shifting of the earth as the northern hemisphere progresses from much daylight in June to much darkness in December, at the Winter Solstice, at that time when Christians celebrate the birth of the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. I sometimes wonder if much preaching, many hymn and anthem texts, and years of Christian education (or lack thereof) have obscured from our vision and thus our consciousness the overwhelming presence of the earth, the creation, in our worship, study, and Christian service – indeed, in our daily lives.
As a young boy, I thought the word “Adam” referred to the first name of the first human being who, for some weird reason, didn’t have a last name. It was only after a year of intensive Hebrew language study that I recognized ‘adam actually means “earth creature.” It was a stunning revelation to me – that the name for all human beings is the very mundane “earth creature,” who was joined by his spouse, Eve, “mother of the all the living.”
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” we hear every Ash Wednesday as the burned remains of palm branches are traced over our foreheads. “You only are immortal, the creator of humankind,” says the funeral liturgy, “and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to the earth we shall return.” Yes, you and I are animated bodies rather than immortal souls, for – as we confess in the Creed – “We look for the resurrection of the dead.” We do not look for the immortality of an incorporeal soul. While the funeral industry in this country – a nation always searching for a happy ending to just about everything – would have us think that death marks nothing more than a passing – “she passed,” they say – such willful avoidance of death makes it so easy to overlook the real deaths of species, of plant life, of once pristine waters, of icefields, of all those creatures that flow from the gracious creativity of what Paul refers to in the first reading as “the Lord of heaven and earth … who gives life and breath to all things.”
It is Rogation Sunday, a feast day that has gained considerable prominence among Anglicans and Roman Catholics over the past fifty years as our collective awareness has grown of earth’s many wounds, earth’s degradation, struck by human activity and sanctioned by human apathy. At first it may seem so Victorian, so sweet and precious, to walk outside and ask God’s blessing on the soil of our parish garden and to take some blessed soil home to scatter in garden pots or garden patches, as if blessed soil were some kind of heavenly Miracle-Gro. But, then, I would say that in light of the spread and continuing pervasiveness of arsenic and lead pollutants from the former Asarco Plant, only 3 miles away, almost every garden throughout Tacoma may well be grateful for some form of divine remediation. After all, we live with the consequences of a fouling superfund site.
It is good for us to remember that the English Rogation Day processions around gardens, parks, and agricultural fields have been and are still marked by the singing of Psalm 104 and an exhortation by the priest, the parish warden, or the town mayor that one, the earth is the Lord’s, that two, we earth creatures are renters and stewards of what is owned by the Creator, and that three, the seizing or poaching of someone else’s land in order to foul it for the sake of profit is a sin – an affront to the goodness of earth created as a gift to be shared and used wisely by all God’s children.
Each and every Sunday, you and I gather in this assembly, this holy priesthood, who stand in the presence of the Lord of heaven and earth, the One who gives life and breath to all things – who gives life to salmon and geoducks, to oysters and sea turtles, to the mighty Puget Sound, to rivers and streams whose water fills our font; the One who gives life to the red and yellow cedar, sacred to Coast Salish tribes, and the evergreen forests whose beams shelter this assembly and hold our beloved pipe organ; the One who gives life to the flowers and flowering plants that grace this meeting place and our welcoming courtyard, to the beeswax that forms the towering paschal candle, the light of Christ, to the fragrant oil, the chrism, harvested and pressed from the distant olive tree, and yes – to the bread and wine, fruit of the field and vineyard – in which and through which you and I receive the life-giving Presence of the One who is with and for you and me and his wounded creation that yearns for redemption.
In a time in which every federal regulation that prevents harm to land, water, and air seems to be disappearing, this space that welcomes and cares for earth’s gifts – and we with it – can serve as nothing less than a protest against the wounding of earth and earth’s poorest inhabitants; can serve as nothing less than the space from which we are sent forth, a holy priesthood, nourished in the Body and Blood of our great Gardener, to preserve,  protect, and defend this fragile earth, our island home. 
Fr. Samuel Torvend
Associate Priest for Adult Formation