Why is Harvest so important?
During October and November churches all over the world celebrate Harvest, a time when we thank God for what God has given us, and we think about how we can share the first-fruits of what we produce — and the first-fruits of our lives — with the poor and needy, those in the world that need a touch of God’s love.
Back when I was a vicar in Devon, in the United Kingdom, at Harvest, our church supported a charity that helped the homeless. When I asked what they needed, they told me they needed toothbrushes and toiletries. When I asked them what they ‘really’ needed they told me they needed men’s underpants and socks. And so, for Harvest Sunday I told the congregation that I did not want to see a single marrow but instead to bring in men’s underpants and socks. Well, my request was picked up by a national newspaper. Christians all over the UK expressed their dismay that I, a minister, was ‘desecrating’ the season of harvest, but then, the strangest thing happened — a miracle. Through the post, from all over the nation, I received parcel after parcel of brand new men’s underpants and socks with messages of support — not from Christians but from non-Christians. I spread these all over the communion table and chancel of our church for Harvest Sunday before they were bagged up and sent to the homeless charity, who were thrilled.
You see, Harvest, like all biblical themes, is best understood in the context of what theologians call ‘the grand meta-narrative’ or the overarching story of God in the world. It is helpful to think of the story of God in the world as a big arch — starting with creation and ending with the fulfilment of all things, and each bit of the Bible is like a stone in this arch. Or to put it another way, it is like holding up your hand and making a tube with your fingers and looking through it? You are unable to see the whole view but you can see a bit of it. In the same way, every Bible story points to the bigger story of God in the world; they all point to God and to God’s purpose or mission in the world — a mission of which we are a part.
God’s plan was and is to restore the world — and he has called us to help do this — to bring order out of the chaos in our lives, in our relationships, and in the environment, however we cannot do this on our own and we cannot do this in our own strength. We need God to be with us and in us — and the only way that can happen is for God, through Jesus, to come and re-unite us with himself. Jesus did not just come only to save us from our sins, but to restore us so that we could join in with God’s mission in the world to be bringers of healing and restoration. All of us have a role to play and all of us have a calling and purpose to fulfil. Harvest is not just a season where we are reminded to never lose hope and to never give up in joining in with God’s mission, but it is also a reminder to reflect on where we are putting our faith.
Have you ever made a tower? When I was a kid I used to love making towers out of anything — LEGO, cushions, blocks, cards, you name it! However, there is one thing about towers, and that is other people like to knock them down (especially my big sisters). In Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus, was the great temple. It was undergoing a huge restoration and renovation which began under Herod the Great. On its mount, with its impressive construction, it dominated the skyline. It was a symbol of the people’s worship of God. How could anything be more fitting and incredible as the temple? It was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts — and some of the stones weighed over 100 tonnes! Jewish life revolved around temple worship — festivals, pilgrimages, sacrifices, and atonement, and it was the heart and soul of the faith community. Yet, Jesus predicted that the temple would be destroyed and after his death, not long after the temple was completed, it was completely destroyed by the Romans. It was never fully restored, and some 350 years later it was utterly ravished by a huge earthquake. Think about it. If you put your faith in the temple, you would be hugely disappointed. Devastated. Jesus knew this and his message was loud and clear. “Don’t put your faith in the temple, put it in me.”
During this time, we think of harvest, not as a season we religiously observe, or as a time we adorn our churches with marrows or produce, but as a reminder of God’s bigger story. God has called each and every one of you to join in with his mission in the world. Each of you has been given a unique set of gifts and talents to support the church in this mission. This season is a time when we reflect on the use of our own gifts and talents — our own first-fruits — and also the first-fruits of the church. God has called us to a mission together, and it is my prayer that we will work together, stay close to God, and invite Jesus into the very centre of who we are and all we do so that through us, the world may know that God is God.