By the time you read this we will be celebrating and giving thanks for the Harvest. The starting point for Harvest has always been a veneration of and thanksgiving for the natural created order of things. Although the Old Testament prescribes a feast to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest and another to celebrate the ingathering of the threshing floor and the winepress, the church does not appear to have observed any such festivals until relatively recent times. The Ember Days of June, September and December were agricultural in origin, and very probably related to the pagan observances of Rome at the time of sowing and harvests of corn and wine; but in Christian liturgy these have always been observed as fasts. However, Lammas (loaf mass: 1 August) has been observed in England from Saxon times and throughout the Middle Ages with the blessing of Bread made from the first ripe corn.
In the Book of Common Prayer (1662) no mention is made of Harvest Thanksgiving. A special prayer of thanksgiving for an abundant harvest was first officially provided for use after the General Thanksgiving in 1796. Similar provision was made at intervals for the next fifty years, whenever the abundance of the harvest seemed to justify it. This led to the belief that such an observance should be made regularly. It was about this period that most of the popular harvest thanksgiving hymns were written. Today the festival is recognised and provided for in prayer books of the Church of England and elsewhere.
Even in the most urban of parishes both the tradition and attraction of decorating the church for Harvest is strong and popular. a need to give thanks for the fruits of the harvest is, quite rightly, deep-rooted in the hearts and minds of most worshipping Christians.
Harvest Thanksgivings have changed in recent years. An awareness of Global and Environmental issues has highlighted more of the challenges associated with modern farming and agriculture. Our knowledge of what conditions are like elsewhere can also tarnish something of the ‘rosy glow’ we can feel when it comes to Harvest, when the questions around world hunger, starvation, gross inequality, food surpluses and international debt come into focus. Yet being thankful can also spur us into action to help others less fortunate.
God of the harvest in a changing world
Your love is constant and
Your mercy never ends.
Fill us with thankfulness for your goodness
Open our eyes and stir our hearts,
That we may live more simply
And give more generously.
Bless the work of the Anglican
Church in eastern Uganda
In enabling our brothers and sisters to
Grow drought-resistant crops
So they may live with confidence for the future
And reap the fruits of justice.
(with acknowledgement to Philippa Seagrave-Pride)