Sunday 4th October 2020
Harvest Festival
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
Deuteronomy 26.1-11
Philippians 4.4-9

"Rejoice in the Lord," says Saint Paul under the shadow of oppression, to a church weighed down so early in its life by division, arbitrarily assaulted by the Roman authorities, insulted by the upholders of Jewish Law of whom he was once an eminent advocate, subject to the uncertainty of wind, and the rigours of the road; "Rejoice in the Lord!" he says, nonetheless.

As the Siberian permafrost melts, threatening unimaginable catastrophe, as California burns, as politics - although every age says this - sinks ever lower with the exaggeration and the victimhood rage of populists, and as we are assaulted by a virus we cannot see, I have been able to rejoice in reading one book which says we have succeeded because we collaborate*1 and another which says that all shall be saved*2.

The Lord says in Deuteronomy that he has set aside for his people a "Land flowing with milk and honey" and, on this day, we bring to mind the goodness that flows across the earth; but, being from a Northern mill town, blessed with mushy peas and white sliced bread, I find the celebrations with pumpkins and plaited loaves just a little theatrical and, therefore, limiting. There might be a great deal of ploughing and scattering but most of us are not doing either.

What this Promised Land produced, aside from the means of life were, paradoxically in exile, most of the Old Testament texts with their crowning Glory in Isaiah 40-55, and the Book of Daniel with their development of the concept of Messiah and, after the return to Judah, a birth place for Jesus the Messiah, not to mention a theatre for his salvific death and a stone womb from which he emerged on the Third Day. Never forget that that land of promise is, and always will be, the Holy Land.

The Old Testament is the core of everything we value, it is the context in which Jesus recognised his mission and fulfilled it, it is the foundational text of the Gospels and it supplies the energy to Saint Paul's theological speculations and, at a less exalted level, it still moves our speech. And because we are saved from death by the events in that Holy Land we, too, live in a Holy Land.

"Rejoice!" At this time of Harvest "be careful for nothing". I know what Paul means and on the surface it sounds improbable but it refers, in an oblique way, to those Lilies of the field which haunt me every time I buy a Cd. What Paul means is that we have to put our earthly concerns into the context of our Heavenly hope, hope in this context meaning not "we hope things will get better" but hope as the sure expectation of the ultimate prize which Jesus has gained for us. And yet, in spite of all our optimism, we are still left with the here and now.

What I want to suggest is not that we sweep away all the pumpkins but that we see Harvest in a broader context which makes sense not only to we of the mushy pea tendency but also to the majority of us who think of cultivation as a pastime and a pleasure, not the back-breaking labour of the ages. There has been a move over the years to widen the celebration to include industry and transport but this does not reach the majority of us who are, or who have been, readers and writers.

In a real sense, faced with climate, viral and political catastrophe, reading and writing are all we have left. There is currently a rich literature of diversity, prominent in this years' Booker short list, which stands against the crudities of populism; there are still, if we search hard enough for them, places where empathy is tempered by reason, where necessarily broad frameworks are tempered by nuance, where self-control is exercised and where charity is not the weakness of the sucker but the strength of the community. Pumpkins and plaited bread are all very well in their way, symbols of celebration, tokens of love and labour, echoes of a past some of us wish we had had, but the thankfulness we need to live out is thought and the Word, the prayer and the praxis. When the Chosen People crossed the Jordan it was not because The Lord wanted them to be the beneficiaries of a grand agricultural enterprise; no, their primary purpose was not to wallow in creation but to exalt the Creator.

The Jews wrote their Testament and the Evangelists and correspondents wrote theirs and, as circumstances have changed, the Church has produced theologians, philosophers and scientists all bent on enjoying a deeper understanding of the mystery of God and creation; so what Testament shall we write?

I want to start by saying that it should commence with joyful praise, for without recognising the wonder of God and the world made for us, there is nothing. Then we must acknowledge the history of forbearance from which we have emerged, from the years in the Wilderness and exile in Babylon, the slaughter in the Forum then and the slaughter in the jungle now, the history of oppression and imprisonment which has never been far away. Only with history can we come to an evaluation of the worth in which our tradition has been held. And, yes, we should rejoice in the suffering and sacrifice which has made us what we are and has brought us to where we are.

And now, being people of the promise, we must keep our promises: first, our Baptismal promises; next, our Confirmation promises; and, finally, the promises we make to ourselves and each other about integrity and community, so that we can celebrate with a clear conscience and a clear agenda.

*1 Bregman, Rutger: Mankind: A Hopeful History

Bentley Hart, David: That All Shall Be Saved


  1. Heavenly Father, give us the grace to be thankful for your creation, the self-knowledge to understand our complicity in its ravishment and the determination to put right what we have done, or allowed to be done, wrong: may we acquire due perspective so that our personal grievances are put to one side so that we may concentrate on larger environment issues.
  2. Help us to build the faith, that often crumbles, in the promises of Jesus your Son whose death has freed us from death; may we be ever conscious of the tradition which gave him his self-consciousness as the Messiah and the commitment of his followers, many of whom died for him and for us.
  3. Give us the self-control to wait in silence for the Holy Spirit; may we refrain from judging others and be scrupulous in our examination of conscience.
  4. As the Church faces a financial crisis and a crisis of confidence in the face of turbulent events, may it be faithful to the purpose of spreading the Good News of Jesus; and may we play our part in ensuring that the Gospel tradition is strengthened in our community.
  5. In honouring you, father, may we honour all those whose love and sacrifice has made us who we are; and may we be a strong link in a continuing record of faithful witness.