The custom of celebrating the harvest in church is quite recent: about 170 years old. As far as we can tell, it was an invention of Parson Hawker, Vicar of Morwenstow, in north Cornwall. In 1843 he invited farmers and their workers into church to give thanks for the richness of the harvest. Before then, there were various customs, and celebratory eating and drinking; but nothing specifically to thank God for sustaining the farm workers through the sheer backbreaking, drudging race against the weather to get all gathered safely in.
Even for us, who eat food flown in from all over the world, and benefit from an all-year-round harvest, it’s a chance to thank God, not least for the blessing of being born at a time and in a place of plenty, when machinery, technology and expertise help to keep us well-fed cheaply and easily.
In a society where most of us are consumers and few are producers, it’s easy to forget the terrible grip the weather had on people’s lives. Nowadays, it’s a ruined holiday or a cancelled sports day. Then, it was the difference between a full stomach and an empty one and, of course, this is still the experience around the world.
Jesus told parables about rich young fools and farmers who gloated over full barns. We perhaps don’t recognise the description. But how foolish is it to think that, with insurance cover and a steady income, in a reasonably stable country, we have nothing to fear except death, which we pay good money to stave off for as long as possible.
Even then we look to pass our good fortune on to the next generation, inviting the good fairies of prosperity, status, education, and success to our children’s christenings. It’s such an easy trap to fall into. All it takes, as many readers will know, is an unexpected lurch in this turning world: unemployment, illness, bereavement or family break-up, for things to change.
Every meal we eat is a reminder of God’s amazing generosity. He not only keeps us alive but he does it with such delightful things. Just as the Eucharist is a sacrament, an outward sign of God’s gracious acceptance of us, so each meal is a sign that God cares for us bodily as well as spiritually. And we, of course, should care for others. . .
Jane Hutton, TS, 01;10.2014, PD
Featured Image: The Parable of the Rich Fool, Rembrandt (1606-1669) WikiCommons, Public Domain
Image: Last Supper (18th century) André Gonçalves, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons