So there I was, being driven in a taxi through the heart of the Finnish countryside in the midnight sun singing “We plough the fields and scatter!”
I won’t go into the story how I came to be totally lost but during the midsummer festival I became detached from my friends. Thankfully a taxi came to my rescue but I couldn’t recall the name of the agricultural college where my athletics team was based (you try to remember Tarvaalan Moatalousooppilaitos!).
My Finnish was zero as was the driver’s English. So I drew a picture of a tractor and started the sing the well-known harvest hymn, which I knew had started life as the German “Wir pflügen und wir streuen”
(i.e. it was foreign).
Actually, it didn’t work but whenever I sing that hymn, as will in about 90 minutes time), it all comes back. So many hymns and Christian worship songs carry all kinds of strange memories for each of us. We may well associate them with people, places or even emotions.
Harvest festival itself, which in today’s format has a relatively recent history from a Victorian Morwenstow in Cornwall, will carry some rich memories. I look forward to our school’s harvest festival in church this morning, when two of our granddaughters will be offering their carefully presented harvest parcels, an important childhood moment.
Some years ago the Ministry Team discussed at some length whether we should discourage children from bringing fresh fruit and produce.
Tins and dry produce would be so much more sensible. But to do would take away an important component of harvest thanksgiving.
Okay, some fresh fruit (bananas especially) may need to be taken to the compost rather than to some home-bound pensioner but to make a fruit basket to offer at church does have a powerful resonance. By our actions we declare our total dependence on God, the Lord of the harvest, season by season. Fresh fruit and vegetables are self-evidently not manufactured.
And more, they speak of a whole process, harvest takes time. As Søren Kierkegaard (another foreigner) pointed out “patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown.”
Jesus often spoke about harvest and reaping, in parable and in his exhortations. Only God can give growth but he calls us to participate in his harvest as co-workers, colleagues. “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35).
And that’s the wonder of harvest. It is at the very heart of what it means to be a human being. So here in Genesis 2, we read that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (verse 15). Right at the outset we are called work the land and harvest its abundance, our deepest fulfilment.
And it is no coincidence that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured onto the church, to each believer, at Harvest Festival. (Pentecost is the old Greek and Latin name for the Jewish harvest festival, Shevuot).
God’s purpose? “That we may be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
(Philippians 1:11), something only God can do.
So let’s celebrate harvest!
“All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all His love.”