The Pilgrim Fathers were absolutely correct in their assessment of the meaning of their harvest. It was and is thanksgiving. They, of course, were just glad to have survived, and this is how it is for many in the world today, but that does not in any way diminish the thanksgiving aspect of harvest.
You and I are more fortunate than most, and we have a lot to be thankful for. We may have occasional shortages of specific foods, but generally we don’t go hungry for long. Harvest is not, as many think, only what can be gleaned from the soil, maize and wheat, fruits of all kinds and that kind of thing. The harvest we reap should be viewed as all of our material possessions. When we look at these we are indeed blessed with abundance.
When Jan and I came to Venezuela, we sold almost everything we had, and we felt better for it. I thought I might have a problem in letting go the items that I had owned for years and had come to love, but when it actually came to parting, I had little or no regrets. If God had blessed us with such disposable wealth, which is the wealth you cannot take with us when we die, then God would bless us again I was sure. Walking round the other day, searching for an item I knew I had somewhere I was struck by just how much we have again accumulated over the past six years. St. Paul says that God will give us his gifts, pouring them into our bowl pressing them down and still they will run over.
Much of what Jesus tells us in his gospel is about God’s generosity and how we should respond to it. The well-known story of the water into wine is a story about God’s generosity. No one at a village wedding could possibly have drunk so much wine even if the party had lasted all year. In thanking God for his generosity, we also thank the other people engaged in the production of food and goods that goes to sustain us all.
It is a long, intricate chain of people who are engaged in feeding and clothing and looking after the world’s peoples. It may start with a geologist who finds where metal ores are buried. It takes a mining company and all its personnel to dig it out. It takes the steel or copper mill to turn the ore into a useable material.
Other manufacturers to take the crude steel product and turn it into tractors, drills, combined harvesters, cars and trucks and all the other things needed on the farm, where the farmer prepares the land to plant the crop that other experts have perfected for use.
Chemists and soil experts, weather forecasters drainage experts all get called in to see that what is planted comes to fruition.
Then it has to be harvested and collected, taken to markets and sold to wholesalers and canners and treatment plants before it can taken to shops and supermarkets to be sold to housewives to cook and put on the table in front of her family. All this to satisfy our necessities and replenish our physical needs.
We should always remember that harvest is this co-operative and collective effort of people from all over our world. Of course without the raw, basic materials we could not exist. Our bodies are created out of the minerals and chemicals of the earth and it is from the earth that we get the necessary nourishment to continue our life.
However in the maximizing of our potential, we do not individually have to be farmers to grow our own food so we diversify our efforts and specialize in what we like to do. At least this is what happens in theory.
Shortages, corruption and mismanagement and evil in the form of wars disrupt the perfect pattern of helping each other. In a more perfect world, that could be created from the kingdom Christ wants to bring, there would be a much better distribution of the world’s resources. But we do not as yet live in the kingdom of Christ and so we shall find that the perfection we long for is yet come, but come one day, it will.
Even in this imperfect world there are many who do assist in the cooperative venture of trade and commerce to make food available to many people. With power from electricity and gasoline and water and gas to power our machinery and vehicles, we are provided with lighting and heating and refrigeration. It is a vast and complex web of inter-related people and product that fuels our modern economy and what happens in Venezuela affects people who have never heard of us in lands that few have ever seen. This huge network sometimes comes undone through the weather, or a workers strike or a power failure. It is at these times that we realize just how dependent we are upon others, just how many people and how much skill is involved in the provision for our daily lives and daily needs.
Harvest Festivals and Thanksgivings are contained in a word that is mentioned here every week. The word is Eucharist, and thanksgiving is precisely what it means. Our weekly Eucharist is the regular harvest festival at which we bring bread and wine from God’s creation and offer them back to Him. He takes these gifts and returns them to us in the body of Christ so that we may grow spiritually. You see thanksgiving in the Eucharist is a thanksgiving for our redemption. We need God’s provision for our spiritual growth just as much as we need materialistic goods for our welfare. We do not live by bread alone.
The great harvest is Christ himself who, as St. Paul says to the Corinthians, is the first fruits of humankind. Nor should we overlook that final harvest at the end of this earthly life when we hope that there will be room for us in the store house of God’s eternal life. Thus in hope and in trust, and with thanksgiving we bring ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. And the cycle is completed in Christ.
In the physical world we plant and harvest, and from the harvest take seed to plant again. The rain that falls, feeds the plants and evaporates to fall again as rain somewhere else. There is an eternal cycle of renewal and growth, and here it is again in the spiritual world, in this Eucharist, where we are renewed by the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension so that we can take our places at the harvest Supper of the Family of God.