A Harvest Reflection
This Sunday, 11 October, and the following one were to be our celebrations of Harvest Thanksgiving in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim and St James’ Church, Athboy. They would have been different from previous celebrations due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
We could not have filled the churches, because social distancing means a reduced capacity, so we could not have involved the school children as we have done in the cathedral in recent years. We could not have had refreshments afterwards, enabling members of the congregation to mingle and chat. Nor could we have sung the well-loved loved Harvest hymns of praise. How could it be a Harvest Thanksgiving without singing heartily ‘We plough the fields’?
However diminished the services might have been with the restrictions in force, it is far worse not to be able to hold Harvest services at all, as is now the case since the country has moved to level three of the framework for living with COVID-19. Our churches are now closed for the next three weeks, and perhaps longer if the number of cases do not reduce.
It would be easy to become despondent in these circumstances. If we cannot join in public worship now, we may well ask what will happen at Christmas. We would do well to heed the advice of Matthew 6:34, which is often read at Harvest Thanksgivings: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today”.
There is another passage of scripture which I think is very appropriate for these times from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Paul wrote these words from a prison cell. He must have been frustrated that his missionary work had been curtailed. It would have been understandable if he became despondent and disillusioned. He was no longer free to travel through Asia Minor, spreading the gospel of Christ and visiting places where he had founded churches to encourage and build up the believers in the faith. Nevertheless, Paul made the best of his situation by writing to the Christians in those places, encouraging, exhorting and sometimes admonishing them.
In this passage of scripture, he urged his readers to make their prayers in every circumstance “with thanksgiving”. Does that seem impossibly difficult? When things are going badly and we are surrounded by gloomy news, is it easy to be thankful? But that is why it is so important to give thanks. The words of an old hymn say “Count your blessings and name them one by one”. It is when we sit down and think of all the reasons we have to be thankful, that we come to appreciate the goodness of God and all that he has done for us. Such a list in today’s world might include the following:
- Our family, friends and loved ones.
- Our health and wellbeing.
- The beauty of creation that surrounds us.
- The wonder of the changing seasons.
- The plentiful supply of food that we enjoy.
- Our health service and all who care selflessly for those in need.
Once you start counting your blessings, the list will grow and grow. It is an exercise we could all engage in. In such ways, our faith is built up and our sense of gratitude to God grows.
Let me leave you with another suggestion, to use the words of my favourite Harvest hymn of thanksgiving as a prayer, to thank the Lord for all his gifts and his unending love:
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.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
For all his love.
He only is the maker
Of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey him,
By him the birds are fed;
Much more, to us his children
He gives our daily bread. All good gifts…
We thank you, then, O Father,
For all things bright and good
The seed-time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food;
Accept the gifts we offer,
For all your love imparts,
And that which you most welcome
Our humble thankful hearts. All good gifts…
Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)
Tr. Jane M. Campbell (1817-78)
No.47 Church Hymnal, 5th Edition
Collect for Harvest Thanksgiving
you crown the year with your goodness
and give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
Grant that we may use them to your glory,
for the relief of those in need
and for our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen