John, a Vicar in North Lancashire once told me that on Harvest Sunday he had blessed the Atlantic Ocean . As his parish was extremely land-locked I expressed some scepticism about this. “The trouble with you,” he told me, “is that your vision is too narrow!” He then explained that on Harvest Sunday morning he had held a service at a farm in the parish. During this service he had blessed the farm’s water-supply, a stream which ran into a small pool and then out again at the other end. This water then flowed down into a small river which eventually flowed into the mighty Ribble. This in turn flowed out into the Irish Sea and the Irish Sea was eventually joined to the Atlantic Ocean . So John, by a small stretch of imagination and a big vision had indeed blessed the Atlantic Ocean .
I was both deeply impressed and very chastened!
John’s big vision was a reflection of God’s vision for Creation. Harvest Festival time is an opportunity to think about the Farming community and , despite the problems in Agriculture, to celebrate and give thanks for those who provide for our needs and share with God in the joys and fruits of creation.
It is also essential to focus on those who have no harvest.
This is a time of great uncertainty with all the effects of Coronavirus, not least the plight of the increasing numbers of those needing to use Foodbanks*. Then there is drought in various parts of the world, extreme heat causing wildfires in West Coast America, after devastating fires in Australia, the effects of war in the Middle East, the destruction of the rain forests, all of which are compounded by situations like the explosion in Beirut which destroyed homes and lives, and so much that mars creation. Add to that the possible problems for farmers and food producers and sellers who will be affected if we have a no-deal Brexit.
Whilst these are big issues affecting us as we try to harvest the resources of our planet with responsibility, we mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. In a world teeming with beauty there is a right moment to say Thank You to God for providing a world not only for our needs but also for our delight.
When, in 1843, the Revd R.S. Hawker introduced to his parish in Cornwall an Harvest Thanksgiving service, he simply wanted to give thanks to God and to the farming community. He did not guess then that by 1862 such a festival had become so widespread that the Church of England, encouraged by Queen Victoria, made it an official Thanksgiving. Others have joined the celebration.
Though that Cornish Vicar lived at a time of rapid and deeply unsettling change in Agriculture as people started to migrate to the new industrial centres seeking work in manufacturing industries, he still saw much to give thanks for. We can get bogged down in the negatives in a way which blots out the positive. There is a wideness of vision which can take in the difficulties and problems whilst pointing us beyond them.
In rural Lancashire during the time I was there, we had the beef and then the sheep crisis in the space of ten years. Both had a devastating effect on the lives of the farming community. We also lived in an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Both the problems and the joys existed side by side. With so much beauty around us the area attracted many visitors. Today many farmers still tend the land but also cater for those in search of the beautiful and the breathtaking. Those indeed who are able to drive or walk through the countryside in search of something we might call spiritual and what I would certainly recognize as God, are often refreshed in spirit. With the brushstrokes of His creativity God has painted on a wide and deep canvas. We should stand back from time to time and enjoy the view.
Harvest is certainly a time to pray for farmers and give thanks for their provision of food. It is also a time to do something practical about the needs of the world.
It is, however, particularly, a time to thank God for all the providence and goodness towards us.
- Foodbanks* throughout the country are reliant on gifts from the public. Many are currently overstretched and would welcome donations of food . Why not find out where your nearest Foodbank is and phone them to ask what are their specific needs. Then think about how you might be able to help. This too is an expression of thanksgiving.