Stephen Lewisham   

12th October 2013                                                                                          

Harvest Festival 2013


Today is our Harvest Festival. Did you know celebrating the harvest in church only dates from 1843? Before that it was a non-religious event called ‘Harvest Home’. Many people then lived in the country, so harvest, and the food they ate, were closely related: it grew, and was harvested all around you, walking to school or the shops or to visit Granny in the next village. So they couldn’t help connecting the food on their tables every day with those fields and orchards they passed on the way to school, and where most of their family worked all day long. A good harvest meant cheap food; if it failed, as it sometimes did, food was costly, and they went hungry. So ‘Harvest’ meant something which they took really seriously.

Today that connection between what we eat and where it comes from has completely changed. Think of a tin of baked beans. Today we go to the supermarket, pay for it, and eat it. But long before we put that tin in our basket, someone living thousands of miles away planted and harvested the beans, sold them to someone else who took them further away still, baked them and added sauce, before selling them to a third person who took them to his canning factory; then a fourth person in the chain sold the full tins of beans to a food supplier in this country; next, Number Five, a transport firm, took them to your local supermarket. Then your mother, Number Six, bought them and you Number Seven ate them. That’s seven processes instead of only one! Country people grew their own beans, and ate them! We only see the buy-and-eat part of the story.

This little parable has a lesson for us today. What looks such a simple process of ‘buy-and-eat’ is, in fact, nothing of the kind. It involves many people, many stages, and covers vast distances.

But that is also true about what we’re doing in Church this morning. Every time we celebrate the Mass we are, however slightly, changing the whole course of history and, more importantly, we are, at the same time, being changed ourselves.

Coming to church, saying and hearing words, and receiving bread and wine, look very simple; but, as we saw with of the beans, are nothing of the kind. For the words which we hear and say are the Word of God, which He, in His wisdom meant us to hear and take to heart this morning, each in our own way. What starts as bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, and if we recognize it for what it is, and continue to obey His commandment (to ‘go on doing this’ week by week) it will slowly but surely be changing you and me into the sort of people He meant us to be.

How this comes about is as complicated as how the produce of a bean-field thousands of miles away finds its way onto our own breakfast table. That goes for most of the things that God has done in and for this world we live in. But what God asks us to do is something really quite simple. Almost as simple (in earthly terms that is) as visiting a shop and coming home with a tin of baked beans…

But in heavenly terms – in reality that is: well, as we have just seen, that’s a very different matter!


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