At Elmers End we celebrated our Harvest Thanksgiving on 18th September and Emmanuel celebrate theirs on 9th October. Harvest is a very important festival in the Christian Church and it is right that we celebrate it. Unlike Christmas and Easter it doesn’t commemorate a significant event in the life and ministry of Jesus but none the less it is appropriate that we take time to give thanks for the food we eat and God’s provision throughout the year. It is also a time when we bring gifts to help people who struggle to feed themselves and their families.
Jesus often referred to harvest and agriculture in his teaching and parables and Jesus himself would have celebrated not one but three harvest festivals each year as Jewish people still do today.
First there is “Pesach” or Passover which celebrates the barley harvest which in the land where Jesus lived (present day Israel) was around March/April. During what was primarily a harvest feast the Jews also at this special thanksgiving meal, remembered how God rescued their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. Passover is usually at the time of the Christian Easter weekend when we remember how Jesus by his cross and resurrection rescued all people for all time from slavery to sin and death.
Secondly there is “Shavuot” or the Feast of Weeks. This celebrates the harvest of first fruits and takes place around May/June. During this festival Jewish people remember the giving of the Law (Torah) by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus taught that the most important part of the Law was to “love the Lord, your God and your neighbour as yourself.” St Paul, himself a devout Jew after he encountered the risen Jesus and committed his life to his service, was later to write, “whoever loves their fellow men and women has fulfilled all of the law.” (Romans 13:8)
Lastly there is “Sukkot” or the Feast of Tabernacles. This is celebrated around September/October at much the same time as our own harvest festival. It is the time of the ingathering of the wheat harvest. For Jewish people it is also a time when they remember how, after the rescue from Egypt, their ancestors wandered for forty years in the desert living in tents or tabernacles.
During this feast Jews today either live for a week in a tent pitched either in their garden or more often in their houses to recall that time in their history when the nation was in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land. In the opening chapter of John’s gospel, John explains that the birth of Jesus was in fact God himself coming to live with his people. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) The Greek word translated as “dwelt” in English literally means God “pitched his tent” among us. A wonderful reminder of Jesus’ words to his disciples (and to us) “I am with you always.”
So let us at this time of Harvest whether recently celebrated or still to come remember its ancient Biblical origins and how Jesus celebrated it three times each year and let us also remember the words of St Paul written to the church at Thessaloniki, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)