‘Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good’. (Genesis 1:11-12)
Harvest has surely been celebrated ever since human beings first planted seeds, cut the heads of grain and stored them to use through the times of scarcity. Coming closer to our own time, when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, they adapted the agricultural festivals being kept there and these have come down to us today:
Lammas, the time of the first-fruits, corresponds to the Feast of Weeks when the first sheaf of the barley harvest was offered; our Harvest Festival corresponds to the Feast of Tabernacles, which is described as ‘the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year’ (Exodus 23.16), i.e. the harvest-home. This was the last and greatest feast of the Jewish year and it was sometimes simply referred to as ‘the feast’.
During this time, the men dwelt in green booths or ‘tabernacles’ made out of branches, in commemoration of their time in the wilderness when there were no harvests, and they depended daily on God for food.
Harvest Festival is still one of the most popular celebrations, both in town and country. It may seem strange that we bring tinned goods to decorate our place of worship, but these can be a modern way of acknowledging our dependence on God. On the other hand, lumps of coal or sheaves of wheat may evoke memories in older people of harvests of the past, when life was harder and the celebrations more poignant, just as the ‘tabernacles’ reminded the Israelites of the harder, more dependent times. For all generations a reminder is appropriate of the basic humble elements of soil, water and grain, on which we all depend, and the fruits of which we should share with the poor at this time.
God the Creator and Sustainer of the world, who provides sufficient food for our need but not for our greed, bless your wild creation so that it yields a rich harvest for all your dependent creatures, and sufficient for our needs; and give us such a feeling of gratefulness that we do not spoil their environment nor their harvest.
Give us generous hearts to recognize the needs of others, and open our hands to help, knowing that in others we see the eves of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.