It’s that time of year to celebrate the harvest. A good harvest is vital, even for those of us who no longer live in farming communities. The Israelites were told to celebrate the harvest, to share it with those less fortunate than themselves, and to give a portion back to God. We can learn lessons from these instructions, because we are planted by God to be fruitful Christians, to celebrate the growth that we see in ourselves and others, to share our literal and spiritual harvest, and to give ourselves to God.
We read in the early chapters of Genesis how God is a head gardener, planting the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) and ‘employing’ a gardener (Adam) to work in it and take care of it (Gen 2:15). Then, following the flood, part of the promise of the rainbow relates directly to the harvest: ‘While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ (Gen 8:22). But, while God promises seedtime and harvest to continue, there was no guarantee that harvest would be plentiful.
In our modern world, it is easy to feel disconnected from the harvest. We live in rural Hampshire, so combine harvesters are a regular sight through our village at harvest time – even so, when getting food is so convenient (a quick trip to the supermarket), our reliance on the harvest can seem distant. And yet, earlier in 2017, bad weather in the Mediterranean caused a shortage of some fruit and vegetables in British supermarkets, illustrating that the supply chain is perhaps less secure than we might think. The importance of a good harvest for small farming communities in days gone by was more obvious: a good harvest was a matter of life and death for entire communities.
When the harvest came in, the Israelites were instructed to do three things: celebrate with the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16), leave some produce behind for the poor (Deut 24:19), and give a portion of the harvest first-fruits back to God (Deut 26: 2). It is useful to apply these lessons to our life as Christians. God has planted us to be fruitful Christians, to grow the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Gal 5: 22-23). Harvest time is about celebrating our material blessings of daily bread and beyond; for considering how well we share our material and spiritual blessings with those who are low on food (this could be those in our family, our church, or further afield); and reflecting on whether we give the first-fruits of ourselves to God (or the leftover scraps)! The table below shows how the determinants of a successful harvest can be useful in our lives as Christians.
Table: A parallel between a good literal and a spiritual harvest
It is traditional during Harvest Festival services to take some produce of the land and display it for the church to see; this is similar to the ‘wave offering’ in Old Testament times, and provides a powerful visual aid. Harvest time should remind us that God is in control of our food-chain (not supermarkets!) and that our mission in life is to be fruitful Christians, to the glory of God.