Last year I remember being nervous – I had never in my life preached at a Harvest Thanksgiving Festival. I had been at two, whilst on placement, but in the context I came from we did nothing more than nod to the seasons and farmers in a song of scattering and ploughing.
Being in this dichotomy of urban and rural I have enjoyed the farmer chatting about barley, oats and corn. There has been so much to learn about planting and pruning, nurturing and then if truly blessed the harvest.
There are many harvests in the year, it depends on what is grown. In the Book of Ruth we begin with the the barley harvest and fifty days later, the wheat. In modern times we are not bound by the seasons as to when we eat our favourite vegetables and fruit. We just go to the supermarket it buy it.
Last year there was a worry for a day or two about the mushroom crop as a few pickers developed Covid-19. On the west of the Ireland where the rain flows more heavily and often there are sometimes worries about how many cuts will it be this year. Some years it isn’t enough and a cry goes out along the west coast – Save us, save us. Not to God but to farmers on this side of the country.
And in the middle-east the crops are good. Some years better than others but there is always a crop. And yet I was in “yet another zoom meeting” last year where talk of harvest and celebrating it were belittled. Firstly the number of harvest thanksgiving services in each locality, but also a feeling of why bother! Or looking at it all from a selfish perspective, or a new grit of stubbornness of I am not doing that.
Back in the time of Jesus there were a lot of festivals, each harvest got its own festival. The people were rooted to the ground and there were famines and droughts, thunderstorms and all kinds of seasonal adjustments that made living from the land precarious. So we look back and think well of course they thanked God because they got the harvest in.
“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”Laura Ingalls Wilder
What does harvest look like in the present age? It seems that there could be a leaning towards the social aspect rather than the thanksgiving aspect of a thanksgiving service. It is possible as we have lost our intimate relationship with the earth and don’t see the connection with the Godhead and thanksgiving.
Perhaps we look too much to the west, and follow American ways of focusing on a day in November, except we don’t have the day in November. So maybe, just maybe we lose something precious by omission rather than directly. Is it possible our love of preaching series interferes with the natural rhythms laid down a few centuries ago.
This year what will a Harvest Thanksgiving Service look like in your area? Just as doff of the cap or a meaningful exploration of giving thanks in this most earthly of ways.