Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
In much of medieval Europe the three days prior to Ascension Day (the 40th day after Easter – this always falls on a Thursday) were given over to prayers for God’s deliverance from a variety of calamities. They were called “Rogation Days.” In England, the people would gather at one church and march to another behind a processional cross, but not usually in a straight line. There would be several banners, one of which always included a lion. A large stuffed dragon was held aloft on a pole and carried in the procession as well. The group would stop at several points along the way, offering prayers that there would be favorable weather, good crops, that plagues and pestilence would be kept away, and on Wednesday especially, they prayed for peace. By starting and stopping at various parishes and visiting points between, the whole of an area would be covered in these prayerful processions. At the end of the procession there would always be a special service in which prayers were offered for the health of the people.
Of course, these events also became a time of festivities and communal celebration after a long winter and as crops had sprouted in the fields, promising a harvest soon to come. After the procession, food and drink were served. One witness recollected that people may have had a hard time making it home because they had been “misled by the spirit of the buttery.” The buttery was the room where the ale was kept.
The days were not all the same. As they progressed the dragon moved further and further back in the procession. By the last day he was at the end and all the stuffing had been taken out of his long tail so that it drooped to the ground. He became a sad, defeated figure. We pray today with those medieval peasants that God extends the hand of His majesty to heal and defend us. Those peasants of medieval England saw something true. We are not praying just for a virus to be thwarted or that war not come to winnow our young men and women. We are praying that Satan’s power be undone and his schemes come to naught, that he be pushed to back of the line, a defeated and pathetic figure. Our Lord, the Lion of Judah, walks before us.