For many, today is Harvest Festival. It’s celebrated on the day of the full moon in the Autumnal Equinox, which this year is the 24th or 25th September depending on where you are around the world. So, if the sky is clear then tonight you’ll see the Harvest Moon.
The word harvest is from Old English hærfest meaning ‘Autumn’. In Canada and the US, Harvest has of course become set times in the calendar and are National Holidays. Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October for Canada and the fourth Thursday in November for the US.
For our own church of St John and St Mark in Bury, UK we tend to postpone it a little and have a Harvest Festival on the second Sunday of October (this year it’s October 14th). This is one of our Parade Days when we have the children from Rainbows, Brownies, Beavers and Cubs with us.
The church is decorated with flowers and fruit and we bring food to be shared with those in need within the community. We also have a lunch together, give thanks for what we’ve been given and think about parts of the world where people’s very survival can rest or fall on how good the crop is.
We’re a mostly urban parish and when food comes from the shops rather than directly from the fields it’s sometimes easy to forget our dependence. Where I grew up it was a rural community near the coast. So both rolling green hills and seashore. Some years at Harvest Festival there was a plough and bales of hay in church. Other years there were fishing nets and a small boat, which we somehow got through the church doors!
A family reunited
Four Lanes End Congregational Church near Bury is in the countryside. Harvest is one of the few times when people with long family connections to the church return home from wherever they’ve moved to so that they can be together again and catch up.
It reminds me of the Mooncake or mid-Autumn Festival in China, which is also celebrated today. Here they give thanksgiving for the harvest; to pray for longevity and the future; but most of all to just be together as a family, to reunite.
Celebration and responsibility
Harvest is mentioned often in Hebrew Scripture. Sometimes it’s as an occasion to celebrate and give thanks:
Exodus 23:16 Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the first-fruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
But at other times it’s a reminder of our responsibility to others:
Leviticus 23: 22 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.
Scripture has always been concerned about those on the margins. Rowan Williams describes this concern as a mark of discipleship (take a read of his book, Being Disciples). If we’re to follow Jesus then we follow where he went, be with the people that he spent time with.
Rowan also talks about seeing each person as a gift and looking for the Christ in them. And that the truly spiritual person is the one who changes the landscape for others, who cast a new light on everything.
Celtic spirituality echoes this with the idea of ‘thin places’, where there’s just a small distance between earth and heaven – and that people can be thin places too.
So, as we celebrate Harvest and give thanks for what we’ve been given may we in turn think about what we give back. May we be a thin place for others, spreading a new light and changing landscapes for those we encounter. And may we not just remember those on the margins but be there alongside too, recognising the Christ in those we meet.