Processions

Ascension, procession and prayer – all somehow connected. If only someone would tell me how.

Public Christian devotions became common by the fifth century and processions were frequently held, with preference for days which the pagans had held sacred. These processions were called litanies, and in them pictures and other religious emblems were carried. In Rome, pope and people would go in procession each day, especially in Lent, to a different church, to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. Thus originated the Roman “Stations”, and what was called the “Litania Major”, “Romana”, or “Major Rogation”. It was held on 25 April, on which day the heathens had celebrated the festival of Robigalia, the principal feature of which was a procession.

Pagans on the march? Well, we imitate them in everything else. Perhaps we Christians should also lumber to our feet? Perhaps if we just take the initial risk of taking our worship briefly out of the church building, we will discover that this is in fact the imitation of Christ. Perhaps then we will find that we can go rejoicing around the city, mark its bounds and ask the Lord’s protection on it. Maybe we should even wheel out a few bishops and get them to bless, pray for, repent and lament before the city, and then bless the city again.

Prayer and procession are connected, you say?

The word “Rogation” comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning “to ask,” and was applied to this time of the liturgical year because the Gospel reading for the previous Sunday included the passage “Ask and ye shall receive” (Gospel of John 16:24). The faithful typically observed the Rogation days by fasting in preparation to celebrate the Ascension. A common feature of Rogation days in former times was the ceremony of “beating the bounds”, in which a procession of parishioners, led by the minister, would proceed around the boundary of their parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year.

Ah yes, but we Anglicans don’t do this. And you can’t make us.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced plans to mount an unprecedented mass walk of bishops and other faith leaders through central London during the forthcoming Lambeth Conference to demonstrate the Anglican Communion’s determination to help end extreme poverty across the globe. Rowan Williams will be joined by approximately 600 other archbishops and bishops.

Apparently we Anglicans do go on processions then. What does an Anglican procession look like? Like that, I see – everyone holding banners and singing their hearts out. Well, you will never get us Evangelicals to do that. We don’t do processions.

The March for Jesus began as ‘City March’ in London in 1987. It was formed in the seedbed of friendship amongst three church groups, Pioneer, Ichthus and Youth with a Mission, and the worship leader Graham Kendrick. Over the next three years marches spread across the UK, initially in 49 centres, which then spawned hundreds of small marches. Marches then spread across Europe and North America, and finally across the world. In 1994 the first Global March for Jesus covered every time zone and united over ten million Christians from over 170 nations. It is estimated that, by the final Global March for Jesus on 10 June 2000, over 60 million people in 180 nations had marched for Jesus.

March for Jesus? It is always us who are doing things for Jesus – lucky old Jesus. Or it is perhaps the Lord who marches in triumphal procession (Psalm 68; Eph 4.8, 2 Cor 2.14) – and if he catches us up into his procession then we are the lucky ones? With or without the Pelagianism, apparently we Evangelicals do have processions after all. We usually call them festivals – Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor – and we hold them out in the country. But then it is not really the countryside that needs praying for, is it? Perhaps London, somewhere between Abbey and Cathedral, would not be a bad place to pray and process, I mean, march, I mean, walk.