Read Sermon



Easter 5 BCP

21 April 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

Rogationtide is these days an option in the Church of England and no longer part of Roman Catholic observance. The word, of course, refers to asking: 'ask and ye shall receive' - its a theme both here in John's gospel, and reminiscent too of similar words from the Sermon on the Mount. The three weeks leading up to Trinity Sunday was traditionally was a time when marriages were not solemnized (like Lent and Advent) - though, we in fact, we had one yesterday and another this Saturday. If you wish to maintain tradition you may wish also to fast, to prepare for Thursday's Solemn feast of the Ascension of the Lord. On Rogation Sunday (which is today), farmers would have crops blessed by the priest. Not only fields, but also prayers for protection and a blessing of the parish by an ancient practise of 'beating the bounds' was, and in some places, continues to be observed.

Priests in their vestments, churchwardens and people, would mark the boundaries of their parishes, by beating the bounds. In larger places even the mayor got a look in, as hedges were cut down if they interfered with the line of the boundary. If a house was built across the boundary line - then a window was broken and the mayor's mace passed through. You would also have to get in a boat and row the line of the boundary if a river formed part of the parish limits. The River Lea formed a boundary in my last parish, though in my time there, I neither beat the bounds, nor walked on water. The people of nearby Clapton, in north London, rumbled a minister in the 19thC, who claimed to be the Messiah returned, but who, when challenged to walk on the local pond, sunk rather ignominiously, and was hounded out as a fraud! You will be reassured to hear I didn't experiment in the same way when on the Sea of Galilee last week - perfectly content with bathing rather than trying to walk.

We all have boundaries and personal 'space' in which we feel safe and comfortable, from within which we function and flourish. Boundaries are, of course, immensely important. But at the same time, we don't like being squeezed into corners, or hemmed in. We have homes where we feel safe, into which people are invited - rather than march in. Boundaries are necessary to establish a balanced and healthy life, but also important is the need to break boundaries down. Especially when those limits are imposed by our narrow-minded petty prejudices. And it is for us also, in prayerful wisdom, to discern where they should be drawn.

Last Sunday it was a privilege to be staying in Jerusalem with a friend from university days, who now works for the United Nations, as spokesperson for the Middle East Peace Process. His knowledge and access, both to information, and to off-limits places (in his UN car), meant we had freedom across the boundaries all over the West Bank. We tried to get into Hebron, where both Abraham and Sarah (and other Biblical souls) are buried, but, chillingly, this fairly large and important Palestinian place had been removed from all road signs, and when I finally worked out where it was, the only unblocked road was closed whilst an Israeli security operation was being executed.

I had forgotten that the horrible so-called 'security wall' is sited in bits of Jerusalem itself - though illegally grabbing land. To me it appears a wall of shame dividing communities economically as well as socially. The short walk for children to school across the road, or for elderly relatives to visit one another, has become an ordeal of marching a mile or two up the boundary on one side of the wall and back on the other. Sometimes getting through the checkpoints will be swift, and other times people are in for humiliation with hours of waiting and possible strip searching. At nearly 30 feet high the wall is physically an ugly scar, much, much more appalling in reality, than in pictures…and you can imagine the spiritual and emotional effect of such a brutal sight and daily frustration. Those who support the wall told me that suicide bombings have gone down from twenty to four attacks since it went up. Others say this reduction is down to Hamas calling the bombings off, and their position seems to be holding. The wall is nearly finished in Jerusalem, but it leaves people with a sense of powerlessness and impotence after all the optimism of 9 years ago when I was last there.

Ask and ye shall receive - what should we ask for in establishing proper boundaries in this situation, and furthermore what shape might our prayer take in breaking the boundaries down? Nick Pelham who works as senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Jerusalem, engaging in conflict resolution, reminded me that Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been organically linked, for at least 2000 years. Pilgrims have moved for thousands of years between the two holy places. But with access, control and separation now total, and in the gift of Israeli security forces, the life blood is being drained from the place, and from the people where Jesus was born. We walked round a beautiful converted school, that has now become a large new 5* hotel…a surreal experience because it was ghostly and deserted …starved of custom (except when the Israeli Defence Force chose to trash every single room not long after it was finished…I leave it to your imagination as to how they marked out their dominance, rather in the manner of animals).

Where and what are the appropriate boundaries in this impossibly intractable conflict, and for that matter in all sorts of other thorny issues? And when is the time and how the manner to work for bad boundaries to be destroyed?

We might pause, and ponder the boundaries between ourselves and our Maker. In a sense the Sacrament of the holy Eucharist, the flesh and blood of Christ given for us, is a glorious boundary between heaven and earth. Those on either side of this boundary must approach each other with respect, as we are bidden, reverently, to do, and as I also believe God himself does, in his reverence for us his creatures. But also, in Jesus, we believe the distance, the boundary, between God and Man has been broken down once and for all, and these two ideas must somehow be held together in harmony.

Not least at Rogationtide when we are bidden to ask in the name of the Lord, we are reminded that prayer breaks down boundaries. In all those situations in which we feel so powerless and helpless…fragile and impotent…we pray. We pray. We pray. Ask the Father in my name, and ye shall receive.

I also went to Palestinian Jericho, where (and you need no reminder)…those walls came a tumblin' down.
Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.