Our service opened with the hymn “All Creatures of our God and King.” I chose it weeks ago when I began planning worship and never thought it’d be mentioned in my sermon for today. It just seemed like an appropriate hymn for a day we celebrate God’s creation and reading Psalm 148.
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and let us sing
Oh, praise Him
Thou burning sun with golden beam
Thou silver moon with softer gleam
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Thou rising moon in praise rejoice
Thou flowing water, pure and clear
Thou fire so masterful and bright
It seems an appropriate song for a reading of Psalm 148 that calls for all the angels, sun and moon and shining stars, great sea creatures, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds, mountains, trees, animals large and small, and men and women young and old to praise the Lord. But, the hymn “All Creatures of our God and King” was not written with Psalm 148 in mind. It was written with the Canticle of Creatures in mind.
The Canticle of Creatures was written by St. Francis of Assisi. It is believed to have been the first work of literature written in the Italian language. St. Francis is a saint that we are probably all familiar with. He is the most venerated saint and he is the patron saint of animals and the environment. He is often pictured with animals in a hooded brown alb cinched at the waist.
Legend tells that St. Franics wrote the canticle while recovering from an illness in the Spring of 1224 at San Domiano. It is believed that he did not physically write the words because there was blindness associated with his illness. It was his mind’s eye that pictured God’s creation while writing the words. It reads:
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
Especially through my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
In the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And clouds and storms, and all the weather,
Through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
She is very useful, and humble, and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
Who feeds us and rules us,
And produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
St. Francis ends the song with a blessing for those who forgive and a call to serve God humbly. The Canticle of Creatures is said to be a contemporary reflection on Psalm 148. In the canticle, St. Francis honors the interconnectedness of creation, all of creation that works in harmony to bless and praise the Lord. The Psalmist and St. Francis both seem to understand that God created everything, and set everything into motion, and so when we are all living in harmony as we are meant to be, we are honoring our Divine created-ness and thus praising God by living as we were intended.
Today, Rogation Sunday, the Sunday closest to Earth Day, we turn to God to celebrate creation and pray for His work in a hoped to be good harvest. Rogation days is an ancient tradition of the church originating in 470 in Vienne, France. The Archbishop called for fasting and special prayers to be said over the fields that were just beginning to sprout.
As we pray for our fields, farmers, and gardens, we hope for justice and reconciliation. Audrey Hepburn said “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Planting and praying requires hope. If we did not believe we’d need food for tomorrow, we wouldn’t plant a field or garden. If we did not believe God would answer our prayer for abundance, we would not pray. We believe in tomorrow and God’s promises so we pray with hope for tomorrow.
Rogation prayers are about justice. Robert Frost in the Mending Wall wrote, “good fences make good neighbors.” Rogation processions included teaching the next generation the bounds of the parish and the farms. It also was a time for resolving boundary issues between farmers. If everyone honored the bounds of their fields, each farmer would fairly have the land needed for his crops and herds. There is justice in setting and honoring proper bounds. The beating of the bounds procession would traditionally end with a feast of ganging beer and rammalation biscuits. (http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/rogation%20and%20ascension.htm)
Finally, rogation prayers are about reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote that creation was frustrated and waits for God’s revelation (Romans 8). It, like humans, is rebellious and subject to the powers of darkness. The Psalmist writes that the waters of chaos are a sign of creation’s rebellion against God. In Psalm 148, the rebellious creation is asked to turn to God and praise Him. (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2327) Praising God is a sign that we, all of creation, acknowledge God as our source of life and sustenance. So, we pray with humility for fields, farmers, animals, gardens trusting that God is the One who makes the soil furtile and the plants grow and feeds all of creation. Through Christ, all of creation is redeemed and reconciled to God. Amen.