By the time you read this we will be well into – or possibly even past – the Harvest Festival season.
I like Harvest Festivals. Yes, they’re a time to give thanks to God that the crops have been gathered for the coming winter, but given the nature of today’s global economy we are accustomed to being able to go down to the supermarket and buy whatever we want from anywhere in the world pretty much whenever we want it. We don’t live in the middle-ages, when a poor harvest in this country meant famine, starvation and sometimes huge loss of life. We have only to turn on the news to know that even today there are parts of the world where this is still very much a reality. So we thank God for what we have. It can be shared.
But the reason I really think I like Harvest Festivals is the tradition, the history, and the little bits of paganism sneaked in! The corn dollies, the bonfires, the wicker statues; the Church Services with good old belt-‘em-out hymns and offerings to the altar, once passed on to the poor of the parish but these days donated to the food bank. The harvest suppers and feasting, barn-dances and entertainment. Even when I was a kid I remember taking a basket of fruit and a couple of tins in for harvest assembly at school (they were donated to a local old people’s home where I was, In London.)
Back in Jesus’ time they had a harvest festival. It was called “Pentecost”, and these days it’s remembered chiefly for being the day God sent his Holy Spirit to the disciples thus forming the Christian church. It’s come down to us as “Whitsun”, presumably from “White Sunday” denoting the colour of Altar cloths used for the celebration. But the Holy Spirit didn’t come just once, a flying visit which we use up until it comes again. Like our global supermarket economy, the produce is there to be used at any time. The spirit dwells in Christians, and the harvest it produces, the fruits of the Spirit, are listed in the Bible by St. Paul (Apostle, letter-writer and former enemy of the Christian Church.) They are, he says, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians Chapter 5, Verses 22-23.) These really are things worth having, are likely to last a mite longer than a can of Alphabetti Spaghetti and are unlikely to be affected by Brexit. Oh yes, and they’re free…