Harvest festival – a meditation on the turning year.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

“If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Romans 6:5

The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:10-11

Introduction

This presentation has been designed to fit with a traditional Anglican Harvest Festival service. The talk, slides and reflection together last approximately 15 minutes, and can take the place of the sermon and the intercessions. This works particularly well if the Creed follows the presentation, preceded by a short silence.

The use of a wheat ear offers a sensory aid to the meditation, bringing to life the reality behind the food we eat, while making the meaning of the readings more accessible. If wheat ears are not available then images could be used instead.

The images in the slideshow are comprised of photos taken throughout the year around the church of St. Nicholas, Otham, which is set in a rural part of Kent. The slides are designed to relax the viewer as they follow the changing seasons in an agricultural setting. The congregation of St. Nicholas, Otham would easily recognise the areas and items shown in the presentation, effectively supporting the connections between the natural world, everyday life, memories, and the message conveyed in the readings and meditation. The use of local photos enhances the sense of place for the congregation. If you decide to use this meditation in your church, you may like to copy my idea and take photos in your own area over the year, this will create a visual presentation unique to your church and area. I have personally found that the act of photographing creation in this way can be a form of worship in itself.

The Talk

Introducing the wheat ear.

As you came in this morning you will have been given a wheat ear along with your Harvest Service Book. I hope you’ve all got one.

Your wheat ear was picked from the fields opposite the church.

For centuries grain has been grown around here, and the harvest celebrated with a wheat sheaf taking up central position in front of the alter.

Celebrating the harvest, and thanking God for a fresh supply of food is an ancient tradition, and an important part of this tradition is the celebration of the grain harvest. Getting the grain in when the weather was fine was crucial before the introduction of modern harvesting and grain drying methods, as the harvest could so easily be damaged by poor weather. The grain harvest came to represent a deep concern for gathering in enough food to eat over the cold winter months. The thankfulness expressed in hymns and prayers was deep and heartfelt.

Harvesting, from a French 15th cent. manuscript., Keble College, Oxford (ID 1623).

Of course in many parts of the world there is still serious concern for the harvest. Often it is grain of some sort that forms the staple diet, the successful harvest of which represents the difference between life or starvation.

From ‘The Golf Book’ Book of Hours. 1520-30. The British Library.

So the wheat ears we have here connect us with both others in different parts of the world and with our local history. Of course they also connect us with our present day, because wheat in this country is still a staple food eaten by most of us every day in bread, cakes, biscuits, pasta, pies, and many other items.

Our wheat ears also links us with Jesus. It would have been a different variety to the one you have in front of you, but Jesus walked in the fields and ate grain in its raw state, he used grain in his parables, and as we have heard today he uses the grain as an analogy for his own death and resurrection – the grain must fall to the ground and die in order to fulfil its purpose.

So here we have our wheat ear with 50 or 60 grains tightly and beautifully packed on a single stalk, and it is incredible to think that these have grown from just one grain that had been sown and covered by soil in the autumn, and since then has been watered by the rain and warmed by the sun through the seasons to germinate and multiply in this way.

And of course this is the process that is happening throughout the natural world, in a multitude of different ways, providing us and other creatures with food.

From ‘Harvest Field By The Coast’ by George H Reeves (1881-1911)

In the old days we would have been much closer in our awareness of this process, but in recent times, mostly due to mechanisation, we have become less and less conscious of the cycles and seasons of the agricultural year, during which our food is grown.

We are fortunate to be living in this area, on the very edge of such beautiful countryside, and we can feel thankful to God for having access to this natural environment.

God has created so much beauty in the changing seasons which are free for us to enjoy. I’ve been taking photos throughout the year, so now we’re going to watch a slide show showing the scenes from around this area following in the cycle of the year. As we watch the slides, the idea is to simply relax and focus on the natural beauty around us, the wonder of change, new life and the turning year.

(The slide show will be enhanced by some gentle music of your choice)

The Meditation

I’d like you to focus again on your wheat ears, and perhaps pick them up and look at them. And think about the reading today – the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die if it is to rise to new life. In this Jesus is talking about himself, but he also calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow him. St. Paul tells us that we must become dead to sin or self if we are to become alive in Christ. Christ is asking us to give ourselves to God so that we may become fully alive as we trust God with all that we have.

We have many attachments which get in the way of our relationship with God and with each other, and we need to let go of these things. Good things need to be handed over to God as well as bad, because even good things can cause a problem when they’re wrongly used.

Giving ourselves to God is a process that takes time, it won’t happen all at once – we won’t let go in an instant, but gradually we hand areas of our lives over to God so that he can really lead us and make use of who we are.

So looking at the wheat ear, try to visualise it as a symbol of yourself and all that you are. See if you can visualise each grain of wheat signifying an attachment of some sort – of feelings and opinions, of skills and attributes and most importantly of possessions – things that you own.

Look at each grain as symbolising things you value. Things you can hand over to God. What can you hand over to God from your life? What needs to fall to the ground and die, what might you need to let go of for your life to grow and flourish, for you to be freer and to love, and to love more?

Jesus has promised us that what we give to God with a generous and pure heart, and what we give up for his sake, we shall receive back many times over.

So let us thank God for this promise.

The Lord of creation is Lord of everything, not just creation. We know that when we hand ourselves over to God and trust his care for us, we can be certain of receiving new life and all that we need, more certain of this than our certainty that night will follow day, that day will follow night, and that the seasons will flow into each other.

Amen.

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