A couple of years ago when my elder daughter’s boyfriend came to stay we invited him to our harvest festival service. He looked confused which was strange because he is a very intelligent chap. ‘What’s a harvest festival he asked?’ We explained. ‘Oh’ he said, ‘we have a similar festival on Jersey,’ where he is from. On Jersey their harvest festival is to celebrate the work of the fishing industry. We are about as far from the sea as you can get so I suppose a festival to celebrate the off-shore fishing industry wouldn’t really work here. But, I think that it is important to celebrate and give thanks for harvest in the context you are located in. We are blessed to be surrounded by beautiful and gently mellow countryside.
Celebration and thanks, or gratitude, are two of the key harvest watchwords. At harvest we celebrate the work of all who work the land to provide us with food and harvest reminds us of the importance of gratitude for the beauty of the natural environment. The words of the reading from Psalm 65 make precisely this point:
‘You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it, the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon trucks overflow with richness, the pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout together and sing for joy.’
Harvest invites us to give thanks for the inheritance of the natural environment, or created order. We should also, of course, treat it with dignity and respect. If the reading from the Psalm leads us into attitude of respectful gratitude then the reading from Luke’s gospel prompts us to thinking about simplicity and, ‘enoughness.’
I profoundly believe that we, as a species, need to recapture the virtue of simplicity. We need to develop a richer understanding of the stanza in the Lord’s Prayer where we say ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ When we pray this line we are also saying ‘please help us to ensure that the produce of the earth’s goodness is equitably shared.’ This sentiment, expressed in one stanza, stand in opposition to the aspirations of the rich man – or ‘fool’ – in the gospel story.
From this benefice we can’t change the world, but we can play our part, and we are playing our part. We will continue to play our part. Through playing our part, through living the harvest virtues of gratitude, simplicity and generosity with a commitment to equality and justice we can help shape the world for the better and surely that in a nutshell defines our ‘harvest vocation?’
Rev. Andrew Lightbown