October 18th, 2020
Harvest Celebration with Holy Communion
Based on Ps 65 (the Harvest psalm) and Luke 12 : 16-30 (Trust in God)
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May my words be in the name of the Father, Son & HS. Amen
Behind the Communion Table is a screen known as the reredos. Ours is wood but it might be a tapestry, a hanging or a painting. On ours are four figures painted in oils– the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). They are the work of Mrs. Morris, wife of the Rev Alfred Morris 1894-1913. Go and have a close look at them sometime as they are very detailed.
Why am I telling you this? – it’s because today is the day on which we remember St Luke the Evangelist – the third one along. He wrote the book of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles as a complete and well authenticated narrative of the early history of the Christian movement.
Our second reading, the New Testament reading comes from Luke.
Today is a special day on which we should be glad. Glad that again the Lord of the harvest has demonstrated he is indeed Lord of all, and the earth has produced food for us.
Also, that our thanks and worship brings praise and glory to God’s name. He rejoices when his children give him the glory. So often, we take so much for granted and forget who does uphold the seasons. The last hymn this morning is the traditional harvest hymn that reminds us of an annual miracle:-
We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
Last Sunday we were together as we worshipped in the Ebenezer Hall at a Harvest festival,
when we were reminded of God’s gifts to us at harvest time. How long did it take us to forget that service of thanksgiving? Perhaps we got through to Monday when the Harvest Supper took place, but what of Tuesday or Wednesday?
The same will probably happen again this week. As happens each year, harvest produce will be distributed tomorrow to housebound or needy folk so they don’t feel forgotten. Any remaining will be placed in the Food Bank, along with food brought by the school children for the School’s harvest service tomorrow morning. So by the end of tomorrow, that’s it for another year. Or is it? Our thanks to God shouldn’t stop at the end of Harvest.
Harvest services in the British Isles can be traced back to a Cornish church in 1843.
Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise the idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service. Look around and see the beautiful seasonal decorations. The harvest loaf, complete with mouse has been kindly lent to us by David & Vivienne Corlett.
For those of us who like a bit of history - long before 1843, Harvest Festivals used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on 1 August - it was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. They go back about 700 yrs. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church. They were then used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season.
Since the 19th century, the end of the harvest was celebrated with a large meal called a Harvest Supper, eaten on Michaelmas Day. That day was the 29th Sept - the day of our patronal festival of Michael the Archangel.
Back in the 1800s the community would have appointed a respected man as 'Lord of the Harvest'. As well as setting the wages and organising the field workers, he cut the last sheaf of corn and declared that “all is safely gathered in”. At the harvest supper he sat at the head of the table with a goose stuffed with apples to be eaten along with a variety of vegetables. Goose Fairs are still held in quite a number of English towns at this time of year – one of the largest being in Nottingham that attracts about half a million visitors over 5 days.
But (and there’s always a but) – this year this much-loved funfair has been cancelled for only the ninth time in its 700-year history due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The only other occasions were an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1646 and the two world wars.
There is a lovely painting in the Manx Museum of a Michaelmas goose fair outside old St Matthew’s church in Douglas. The church was built from 1708-1711 by Bishop Wilson and demolished in 1895 to allow for the redevelopment of the open-air Douglas market – now the site of the Market Hall and the British Legion Club. The painting is a somewhat Dickensian view of the old Douglas market, with its stalls groaning under the weight of geese destined for the table and with the warm red glow of oil lamps in the windows.
But, celebrating the harvest and thanking God for his provision goes back much further in the land in which Jesus grew up. In Israel, this year on Friday 2 Oct began Sukkot or the Festival of Booths when many begin a 7 day harvest celebration. Like many Old Testament traditions [Leviticus 23] it is full of symbolism. It comes at the end of harvest and also reminds the Jewish people of the way God had looked after them while wandering 40yrs in the desert. Many will live outdoors in simple booths or temporary huts. The early winter rains have not yet arrived – unlike us who get rain all the year round.
In verse two of the hymn ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ it goes on to remind us of God the creator. It says:
He only is the maker of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower, He lights the evening star;
Then the hymn writer remembers God’s awesome power and how he upholds creation
The winds and waves obey Him, by Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children, He gives our daily bread.
Indeed – much more to us his children he gives our daily bread.
This is a reminder of verses from the Lord’s prayer – “give us each day our daily bread”.
The hymn was originally written in German in 1782 and the writer [Matthias Claudius] certainly knew his Bible. These few short verses have another four scripture references.
[Acts 14:17 (verse 1), James 1:17 (chorus), Psalm 65:7, Matthew 6:26 (verse 2, line 3)
and the Lord's Prayer (verse 2, line 4)]
So - the Lord wants to bless us – it’s his nature.
The Bible has many records of blessings. We use some during our services of worship.
You might remember the priestly blessing often used at the end of church service.
The source of the text is Numbers 6:23–27, where Aaron the high priest and his sons bless the Israelites.
May the Lord bless you and keep you -
May he make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you -
May he lift up his face unto you and give you peace -
Aaron was standing in the gap between us and God, in the same way a priest does today.
It's quite alright to bless each other - we obviously have no power of our own, we are asking God to do so. As a church, we pray for it in our prayers of intercession – that is, when we as a Church are asking God to intercede on our behalf. In the same way we ask God to bring comfort to the sick, friendship to the lonely, etc. And if we join in with the Amen at the end, we not only agree with the content, but join in the sure hope that God has heard it and will act.
There’s an old Jewish proverb – Prayers go up and blessings come down.
The blessings come from obedience (Deut 28). Obedience is not a popular concept.
Our society has turned away from God – many find the whole idea of a being greater than a human being nonsense. We are the masters of the universe, we are self-sufficient, we can get by nicely without wasting time looking for God, even less by going to church.
I find it so much easier to accept a greater being than not. Some of the greatest scientific minds concede that the odds of creation being by chance are far too great. I have a book at home entitled A Brief History of Time - written by the brilliant Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking. Although an avid non-believer he did not dismiss the possibility that God had a hand in the creation of the world.
Having accepted there is an Almighty God, let us return to the harvest theme.
The last verse of the hymn ‘We plough the fields and scatter says this:
We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food;
Accept the gifts we offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But what Thou most desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.
In the second line, we not only acknowledge the importance and miracle of seed time and harvest, but also our life, our health, our food. The list of good things is never ending.
The verse concludes by reminding us that our gifts are but a small return to God of what he has already given us. 2 Cor 9 -
You should each give… not with regret or out of a sense of duty;
for God loves the one who gives gladly.
God does indeed accept our gifts when joyfully given, but what our heavenly Father really desires is our humble, thankful hearts. He doesn’t need us or our gifts, but he invites us to have fellowship with him. To have a relationship with him. I don’t pretend to understand it, but faith says I, you, and millions of others, accept it.
Humble, thankful, hearts - Humble is not a word used much these days – I suspect many of today’s generation don’t really know the meaning of it, even less the wish to be humble.
Collins dictionary says it means 1. conscious of one's failings 2. unpretentious; lowly.
The opposite being proud, arrogant, superior, etc.
A final thought is from the chorus of that well known harvest hymn we will sing at the end of our service – We plough the fields & scatter…
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.
Nobody, even least of all God will force you to thank him. It should be a natural thing to do.
As Jesus said to his disciples some 2000yrs ago [Matt 9 v37]
"The harvest is great, but the workers are few.”
He wasn’t talking about a field of grain, but people – a harvest of souls who will love the Lord. Pray for this community, pray for a revival here in Kirk Michael.
For it to happen we have to want it, to believe God is able and for us to pray it in.
In Jesus name
Come ye thankful people come
For the fruits of our creation
To thee o lord our hearts we raise
We plough the fields and scatter