Eucharist – 18th Sunday after Trinity 11th October
Well, here we are in October, with things beginning to feel quite autumnal: what the poet Keats called the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. For once, this year, the Michaelmas daisies came at Michaelmas, and now more berries than ever on the bushes after extra warmth in April and May (remember sitting outside in the first weeks of lockdown?), followed by (as in the hymn) “soft, refreshing, rain”. Last Sunday, at Birch, someone was inspired to play (but of course not sing) “Come ye thankful people, come” after a Gospel reading set in this season.
Or was it? Just because a particular weather-pattern happens to coincide with events in the church calendar doesn’t mean it’s the same everywhere: you’ve doubtless heard of families eating Christmas dinners on the beach, at the height of summer, in Australia. Traditions (and for that matter, religions) get exported and take root around the world despite local circumstances. It’s no surprise that Easter (what happened about all that, this year?) comes in the Spring for us Europeans: new life abounding everywhere, including that of Christ: it all fits, quite naturally, for us. A true story, worthy of all to be believed, concerns an Asian taxi-driver once asking a teacher being taken to some pre-Christmas event at the end of the “Autumn” term what the religious significance of snow was. He had seen the Christmas cards in the shops, heard the songs, and watched the movies, all full of snow: and was quite disappointed to hear there was nothing religious about it, just an association in the frozen north that formed a nice, comfy-cosy, tradition.
Harvest festivals have always struck me in much the same way; yes, be grateful for God’s good gifts, and, yes, be glad to share them: but don’t come over all pagan about it. The idea of a special “Harvest” Sunday only came in in the nineteenth century, when a Cornish vicar, with lots of farmers working land that belonged to the church weren’t coughing up the moneys due to the landowner as “tithes” (= 10%) on which income the church then relied. I dare say he timed it to fit last week’s Gospel, which matched so well, as well as the crop: but nowadays there are special readings suggested for Harvest, so it can be celebrated on any Sunday that suits. I think that’s rather risky: the thing we’re celebrating all-too-easily becoming the bountiful fruits and record vegetable marrows, or whatever, rather than their giver – and all He gave, even his only Son. It’s important, at every Eucharist, to give thanks for the right thing.
So: this year, what have you missed? Which of God’s good gifts all around us have somehow passed you by? What has become conspicuous by its absence, and made you (I hope) think? Well, there was Easter: but not in church. Ash Wednesday, and a call to repentance, yes, but then a long, long “Lent” of imposed self-discipline, in some ways still going on. What have you had to give up for the sake of your neighbour? What have you not done, to care? Please God, let no-one suffer at our hands if we can help it: that we may learn, and change, and grow, as your loving people through all these times, and bear fruit, indeed, in due season.