|From the Rectory |
Tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
Once again we move towards the autumn and the joys and opportunities that this time of the year offers the Christian by way of giving thanks to God for his bounty and provision.
To give thanks to God for the harvest is the most natural thing for any of us to do. We may live in the city but the benefits of a good harvest affect us all. Our forebears used to give the first ripe corn in August to the Church, to be used in making the Communion bread for a special Thanksgiving. This gave us the word, 'Lammas' - a mixture of Loaf and Mass. Lammas comes at the beginning of August. This was, before global warming, the beginning of harvest.
The end of harvesting came in September and coincided with Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangel Michael. Michael's feast day falls on 29th. September. It's a day for special thanksgiving for all the fruits of the land during the year.
St. Michael was the angel God used to toss Satan out of Heaven. Lucifer, you remember, led the rebellion of the angels against God, and God had him and all his followers turned out of Heaven and into the underworld. Christians have always honoured Michael, the great Archangel, who did the actual job of turning Satan out. By tradition Michael holds a flaming sword in his hand. He is there to defend the righteous against evil, and to be the defender of God's name and the protector of his Church.
In my last parish in Andover, Harvest had an extra dimension. The Parish Church was in a Farmyard and the Church was dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. So we made a great effort at Harvest-time, keeping it also as our Patronal Festival.
Old harvest-time beliefs
Myths associated with harvest-time show what a difference Christianity made to people haunted by belief in different gods. At one time, pagans believed that the reaper who worked on the last sheaf in the field had to be slain: his blood would enrich the soil and ensure a good harvest for the next year. The gods were seen not as heavenly protectors but as objects of fear, to be placated with sacrifices. Hence the tradition of leaving the centre of the field to the last, with a couple of stooks standing upright in it, and also the figure of the 'grim reaper' who symbolises death, and the end of the year.
Harvest-time is drawing towards the end of the year, the Celtic, 'Samhain', fell in October at the year's end. We still have the tradition of a reaper with a scythe at our modern New Year's Eve. He used to represent the death of the slaughtered young farm-hand.
What a joy and peace - and what a revolutionary idea - Christianity must have been to our pagan ancestors! To learn of a Heavenly Father, who provides for all his children, who does not want to see any go hungry, and who sent his only Son to die once for all to atone for humankind's sins - this must have seemed such a message of hope and joy to people who had lived by cruel and arbitrary savagery.
We will be holding our Harvest Festival on Sunday September 6th. Gifts of dry goods will be donated to the Basics Bank in Southampton for distribution to the needy, and there are lots of them, yes, the poor are still with us.
On Saturday evening September 12th. we will end Harvest Festival week with a Harvest Supper in Church. Keep an eye on the notice boards for more details.
Yours for Christ's sake.