Harvest Festivals are very special occasions. Today is a day when we fling open the doors and take a good look around outside. Normally, we run St Mary’s by looking at the church calendar. We look at the sequence of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Or we come across saints’ days, scattered across the year. But today is not determined by the Church. Today is all about what happens out there.
Harvest festivals are also days of great fun. We sing those good old hymns, ‘We plough the fields and scatter’. ‘Come, ye thankful people, come’. We will gather after the service for our Harvest Lunch. Our two churches are met together to celebrate. We gather up produce, heap it around our altar and distribute it to those in need. It’s a jolly good time.
But why on earth did we just hear that peculiar reading? Why on earth do we hear about a Samaritan leper and Jesus cleansing him from his leprosy? I mean, the story is all well and good. It’s an excellent story, but why on earth are we hearing it today? Couldn’t we have something about fields or animals? Couldn’t we have had the Parable of the Sower, or the Parable of the Vineyard? Or something about food, for goodness’ sake. Wouldn’t that make a whole deal more sense?
Well, actually, no. Today’s reading is actually perfect for today. Today’s reading is all about recognising what God has done for us and giving him thanks and praise for it. We don’t get this morning’s reading because it’s about Jesus cleansing the lepers, but because of their reactions. The nine are healed, and they go on their way. No doubt they’re delighted. But this one man gets the point where the others did not. He comes back to Jesus. He praises God with a loud voice. And he lies down in the dirt at Jesus’ feet and thanks him.
The nine take their gift of healing and go on their way. The one takes his gift of healing, and praises God for it.
Here is our message for today. God pours his blessings into the world. We receive so many blessings, more than we can possibly count. In every sip of water, in every morsel of food. And, very often, we completely forget to say ‘thank you’ to God. We forget to praise him with a loud voice. It would be easy for us to pat ourselves on the back this morning for being here at this Harvest Thanksgiving, but we should be giving thanks to God in every hour of every day of our lives. How easy that is to forget!
We can’t look at the ten lepers and identify ourselves with the one, or indeed with the nine. Each of us has both in us. Once, we are overwhelmed with thanksgiving and return praising God. But nine times out of ten, we just don’t.
But God is merciful. God is unfathomably merciful. He knows our weakness and our forgetfulness. He has mercy on us.
And God gives us a way of presenting our thanksgiving and praise. We are met this morning at the altar of the Lord, to share in the sacrament of bread and wine. We are met to celebrate the Eucharist. And the Eucharist is all about giving thanks. The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek word eucharizo, which means precisely ‘I give thanks.’
Later in the service, James will introduce the Eucharistic Prayer with the words ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.’ And we all reply (with gusto, please), ‘It is right to give thanks and praise.’ In the Eucharist, all our thanks and praise is summed up in the taking and offering of bread and wine, God’s gifts to us. In them, we are invited to see God’s greatest gift to us: the body and blood of his Son, through which the world was redeemed. As King Solomon said at the consecration of his great Temple: ‘All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own do we give thee.’
We have received great gifts from the Lord, and all he asks is that we return in thanksgiving. In this Eucharist, the tradition of the Church provides us with the words that we sometimes struggle to find. So when you listen to the the Eucharistic Prayer, give thanks. When you look upon Christ in the Bread and Cup, give thanks. When you come forwards to receive communion or a blessing, give thanks. And when you leave, give thanks!
Now, giving thanks to God for food and drink and healing is all well and good. It’s brilliant. But there’s more. There are yet greater things. Let us think back to our first reading this morning, from Deuteronomy.
The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.
You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
Now, on the surface, that sounds like God promising to the people of Israel all kinds of wonderful things in their new land across the Jordan. And, of course, the country that they received was indeed wonderful.
But we can read those words with another understanding. When God promises to bring us into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with vines and fig trees and honey, with food in abundence, where we will lack nothing, what do we think of? Surely our eyes are cast onwards, upwards. We think of the New Creation. We think of Heaven. We think of the eternal Country where all things are perfected.
We think of the eternal reward won for us by the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
As we gather to give thanks for the gifts of God’s creation in the harvest, let us also think of that eternal Harvest. Let us think of that time when God will gather all creation into his loving arms. Let us think of the time when death, suffering and hunger will be no more. Let us remember the Lord our God, who has promised us all these wonderful things.
And so, for the crops gathered in the Harvest, for the bread and wine of the Eucharist, for our fellowship, and for the promise of the New Creation
Thanks be to God!