The time of Harvest Thanksgiving conjures up within me wonderful memories, of my earliest days when the church had been beautifully decorated with all manner of fruit and vegetables, and with the large loaves of bread that had been baked in the shape of a corn sheaf. Oh, that smell and the glories that surrounded a drooling youngster as he sat with his parents through the service.
And of course the highlight of the day after singing such hymns as 'We plough the fields and scatter…' would be the handing out of an apple to us youngsters and we would go home cosseting our precious present, although one day, a tomato sort of made its way into my jacket pocket, only to find later that I had leaned inadvertently against the pocket and the tomato was a horrible squishy mess, quite unusable - surely the Lord had punished me for my wrong doing!
I suppose the only puzzle that rested upon my young mind was the strangeness of celebrating the gathering in of the harvest even though most of the congregation including my family in my younger days were all town dwellers - well, one supposed that some of the folk would have been thanking the Lord that the caterpillars hadn't completely decimated their garden greens and just maybe there would be one or two others who had an allotment somewhere. But then I hadn't realised that 'harvest' really means all the good things we receive throughout year, no matter what these things might be.
Years later, as a farmer, as I attended harvest thanksgiving, I would think of the problems that had beset me and all my neighbouring farmers who had had to contend with the vagaries of the weather, with hay that had gone mouldy in the barn, with bogged down tractors in wet fields, with sick and dying animals, with the mounting vets bills and with the falling income as the costs escalated. That would be in some years.
In other years, by harvest thanksgiving, the hay sat sweet and wholesome in the barn after a summer that had been hot and helpful, and the milk tank had seemed to fill up much faster than at other times, and the livestock looked well in the fields - surely then there had been something to be thankful for?
But as we all sing with gusto those well known harvest hymns, should we not reflect that this mortal life is all about taking the good with the bad, and yes, struggling on in the hope that there will be better times, that what good seed we have sown will hopefully produce a good harvest.
As mortals, God never expects us to be perfect, for we must realise that no matter how good we try to be, we can never earn His forgiveness - 'for it is by His grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God and not by [your own] works.' (Ephesians 2. v. 8, 9)
So just as we thank our Lord for our earthly harvest, which is not only the food we eat, but is also our income for the year, no matter how little it is, so we must thank our Lord for His grace and forgiveness which is preparing us for our spiritual life, our true life with Him.
But until then, our souls have to be tried and tested and refined in the fires of this life on earth, as metal is refined in a furnace. For 'now …you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, (of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire) may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed'.(1 Peter 1. vs. 6,7)
Thus through this mortal life, we have to be ripened, prepared, and readied for the Lord's harvest. And then we will be able to sing glorious praises of thanksgiving for such a salvation - a time which is foreshadowed by the hymns and praises of our earthly Harvest Thanksgiving.