My father spent much of his life as a farmer and farrier, but in his later working life he worked in a green fruit warehouse for what we now know as the Coop. One of my childhood memories in the 1950s and early 1960s was dad arriving home from work each Saturday lunchtime with two carrier bags full of fruit and veg hanging from the handlebars of his bicycle. This was perfectly legitimate, because along with his four workmates, this was part of the pay.
There were potatoes (except in the autumn when we had our own) carrots, onions, apples, oranges, tomatoes ‒ all the things that one might expect. As the year rotated, we were treated to most things.
I imagine that this month, most of the churches to which you belong will be celebrating Harvest. I have always enjoyed Harvest Festival celebrations and indeed in my childhood they extended over a weekend ‒ a service on Thursday evening, a supper on Friday and then a special service for children on the Sunday. It was a rural area and the church was packed for each service. With a bit of imagination I can still conjure up the smell of the church, laden with produce and flowers. And I can visualise the life size sheaf of corn made out of bread.
Today, tins and packets are more the order of the day. I know one church which sets itself a target of 2,000 tins for the local food bank. For me, both as a child and as an adult, the highlight of the service has always been the bringing forth of the gifts to the altar. Of course this is a simplified re-enactment of a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy:
You shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. (Deut 26:2)
I find it both amazing and moving that we recall and act upon something written about 3,000 years ago. It is the first part of that passage that I want to focus upon; just imagine the situation of the people of the Holy Land ‒ imagine the anticipation of the first crop of dates, figs, olives and barely each year. But the very first of the harvest had to be taken to a place of worship and offered to God. Not the left-overs or the bruised fruit, but the juiciest and the best.
What has this to do with my father and his Saturday carrier bags?
I think the significance of ‘the first fruits’ can be lost in our present age. Those of us who are a bit older remember the excitement of seasonal fruits ‒ the first strawberries of the summer; the first Jaffa oranges; Cox’s apples, fresh plums and so on. The carrier bags contained what was available and in season. Today one can get strawberries at Christmas and new potatoes all the year round.
Just imagine having to give away those first raspberries as soon as they appear! It would be very sacrificial.
God wants us to give him of our best in all situations. There will be another punnet of raspberries next week anyway!
Geoffrey Lowson, TS 2018
Feature Image: pexels-photo-219794, P.D.