Harvest – in our rural Diocese harvest is and can be a very important time for our communities. When I was in rural Mid Devon Harvest activities began in the middle of August and ran all the way through to the end of October. It was often a real village celebration with Harvest suppers, church services and sporting challenges. I will never forget the Bishop of Exeter taking part in the sack race!
Different crops are ready at different times and for the farming community it can be a busy but also stressful time as everything is safely gathered in. As our climate changes the weather can make an enormous difference and the extremely hot dry periods of this summer will inevitably have reduced yields and caused many crops to fail. Whilst some will have rejoiced in the hot dry weather for the farming community drought is something to be feared because it destroys crops and creates problems for the coming season. If nothing else harvest is a time not just to give thanks but to pray for those who work on the land and help provide food for our tables. This year there is much uncertainty because the hot dry summer and war in Ukraine have both impacted our communities creating a perfect storm for those living and working on the land. The bible has a great deal to say about harvest and it is worth reflecting on how we view this celebration.
“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest. You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year's end.”
For the Old testament writers harvest was associated with the rhythm of life and even at harvest time days of rest were not to be ignored. More importantly God’s law required the people to give thanks and to celebrate by bringing the first crops harvested into the temple and given to God in celebration. Whilst we cannot imagine the church year without these celebrations it has only been part of the church calendar since Victorian times. The present tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the eccentric priest Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at Morwenstow in Cornwall.
The idea quickly spread and many of the well-known harvest hymns we sing today came from the Victorian hymn writers who saw the opportunity that harvest offered to share the good news of Jesus. Jesus himself often used farming themes in his parables and made the link to the mission of God in the world to create new disciples.
“Later the Master selected seventy and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go. He gave them this charge: “What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands.”
Luke 10:1-2 Message
Whilst we celebrate the physical harvest and enjoy the fruits of our labours, we should not forget that we are called to work to make disciples and join with God in building the Kingdom. The church is not a passive bystander but an active participant in sharing the good news of Jesus and the Harvest God calls us to join in is the one that leads to eternal life. By all means we should celebrate with our communities but never lose sight of God’s purpose for the church.
“Even now the harvest workers are receiving their reward by gathering a harvest that brings eternal life. Then everyone who planted the seed and everyone who harvests the crop will celebrate together.”