This is the season of Rogation, part of an ancient tradition when church people (that would have been everybody!) asked God's protection and blessing on the crops that were just beginning to grow. As most people were dependent on agriculture for their livelihood you can see the relevance of such a season.
Much of modern society has lost its direct connection with the soil, but this does not lessen the actual dependence of all people on the gifts of nature. Responsible stewardship of all of these gifts is increasingly being recognised as the concern of all people.
Even in urban churches there should be an awareness of our dependence upon the fruits and resources of the earth, of the ways in which resources are wasted, of the dangers of pollution, and of our responsibility for honest labour and industry.
One of the traditions that developed was to “beat the bounds”: to walk around the boundaries of the parish to ask for God’s blessings at strategic points such as a particular tree, or a great rock, or perhaps a pond. The priest would read from the Gospel and perhaps affix a cross to the landmark. In later times, the marchers literally beat the boundary with willow branches or “wands”.
I had always thought that the purpose of this exercise was simply to seek God’s blessing for the agricultural community within the bounds/boundaries. But there was more to it than that. As members of the parish beat the bounds, they would remind themselves of the position of boundaries, and perhaps note where boundaries were not being observed. The annual beating of the bounds provided an opportunity then to resolve boundary issues. It also led to the tradition of seeking reconciliation in personal relationships during this season.
Reflecting on this, I realise that often it helps to bring matters which are prickly into the open. So long as folks spend their time muttering to themselves about things which may be upsetting them, nothing gets sorted. But if there is a time when people can be open with each other – hopefully politely and pleasantly – you get solutions. Quite a Christian thing to do. The picture below was near Tarvin in 1968.