As a vicar, the saying goes, you can only stay in a church for seven years. The reason is that no one has more than seven harvest talks. The alternative is that you rely on your congregation having a poor memory.
We’ll see – for in just an hour or so church will be filled with young voices for our school harvest service. Harvest Festival has now begun. Tomorrow, the family barn dance and then special services of thanksgiving on Sunday. Finally, we distribute the harvest gifts from church on Monday morning.
I’m not sure if anyone else celebrates harvest with such gusto, even those working the land. In fact, I wonder if anyone celebrates harvest at all – mainly for the reason that hardly anyone realises it has happened.
I am always amazed at the vast range of greeting cards you can now buy, to mark every occasion you can imagine. “Thank you for helping me pass my driving test” is my favourite. And the latest range, I understand, is birthday cards for pets. But I don’t’ recall ever seeing any card for Harvest. Clearly there is simply no market.
For the people of the Bible it was very different. All the Jewish celebrations were essentially agricultural – and they knew how to celebrate.
Their year begins in the month of Nisan (around March) with the Passover, which marks the barley harvest. But that’s just the beginning – there were then nine further celebrations through the year.
I’m not sure whether I have got all this right but they had special events to mark the first fruits and then a general harvest. This was followed by vine dressing, the early grape harvest and then the main harvest for grapes, figs and olives. Next on their list for celebrations: summer fruit. That’s the one I would go for.
Next, ploughing and olive harvest, followed by yet another celebration for grain planning and then of course, winter figs. Where would we be without winter figs?
Finally, if this wasn’t enough, their year ended in the month of Adar with celebrations to mark the pulling of flax and almonds bloom I have absolutely no idea that flax needed to be pulled nor that almonds blooming was such a big deal. But there you are. And then the whole cycle starts again.
Obviously this is an agricultural society, close to the land and only too conscious of their dependency on God.
You may think that our harvest thanksgiving is a relic of an agricultural England long since passed. In fact, harvest festival is a Victorian innovation, dating back only to 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. I assume it took a few years to get going.
Only as our society became increasingly urban and industrial did we start to celebrate harvest in an organized way. “We plough the fields and scatter”, “Come ye thankful people, come” and “All things bright and beautiful” are hymns of that era.
But the whole purpose of Harvest Festival is very simple and very important. We depend on God, his faithfulness and gift of life. Even though we live at the end of a very extensive and increasingly sophisticated supply chain, we cannot take the bounty of the earth for granted. We rely on the Lord of the Harvest. Sometimes you just need to say the obvious: it is as simple as that.
The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.