From memory, the late 40’s, 50’s, 60’s & 70’ saw most churches holding traditional Harvest Thanksgiving Services. Their aisles were highly decorated with an enormous assortment of vegetables, fruit, freshly prepared loaves, dough baked sheaves, brilliantly arranged flowers, hay bales and in the mining villages, a huge lump of polished coal with a miners lamp placed on the top, and numerous decorated water containers, not forgetting a few bottles of red and white wines. It was a celebration and each church would be packed, with the church roof struggling to hang on as the worshippers sang their favourite Harvest hymns giving thanks to God for His mercies and all His provisions, Is this scene continued today? Is this concept witnessed in the 21st Century, I don’t think so, but the following script by the BBC guest speaker Rt.Rev Nick Baines during the Radio 4’s Today Programme ‘Thought for the Day’ 2nd October 2017 issues a challenge.
“It’s harvest time again, and all over the land churches are desperately trying to find something new to say about creation, cultivation and deprivation. A bit like the vegetables and flowers on display, it’s a big challenge to keep it all fresh.
Yet, telling the story afresh assumes that everybody already knows what harvest is about. And I wonder if this assumption might be false.
I grew up in a city where the answer to the question “Where does milk come from?” was likely to get the answer “the supermarket”. Then we would get some entertaining, but muddled, account of how we might not actually plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”, but someone did. And we would be grateful – particularly because we didn’t have to do the dirty work.
But, harvest goes deeper than this. If all too often our connection with the land has been broken, then we need more than stories to reconnect us to where our food comes from. What most religions offer is ritual – celebrations that remind us of relationships.
Nearly three thousand years ago the recently liberated Jewish people were about to enter the land they believed had been promised to them. Yet, along with words of encouragement and comfort went words of warning like this: When you get established in this land you will soon prosper. You will build your houses, cultivate your fields and grow your wealth. Then you will begin to forget that you once had nothing and could not save yourselves. It won’t be long before you start exploiting other people. So, the cycle of each year is going to be shaped by rituals that will compel you to remember, re-tell and re-enact the story of your dependence … on God, the earth and each other.
Not very exciting, you might think. But, take just one of these annual rituals – the one that sees you bringing the first ten percent of your harvest to the priest and reciting a creed that begins with the words: “My father was a wandering Aramaean…”. In other words, you once were a nomad, dependent on the land and other people. You remember that you inherited creation, not as a commodity to be consumed or traded, but a gift to be cultivated and shared. You don’t own it; you are to be responsible for stewarding it for the good of the earth and its people.
And, to rub it in, you must leave the ten percent of crops around the edge of the field so that the travellers, the homeless and the hungry can help themselves to food.
Harvest, then, confronts us with our obligations to the earth and each other. It challenges our ethics and our economic priorities. And it reconnects us with the simple fact of our mortality and mutuality”.