Almost forty years ago I remember joining in a barbecue and barn dance in a field near Stowmarket. There was a bonfire and we sat around on bales of hay next to the combine harvesters and tractors, celebrating the Harvest in the company of the farmers who had brought it in. Such Festivals are rightly a focal point in rural communities, where the success or failure of the crops can be vital. Yet to town and city dwellers, giving thanks for a harvest in which we have had absolutely no part can seem meaningless.
We live in a world of “instant everything”. All we need and want is readily available on a basis of live now, pay later. It can be so easy to take for granted the luxuries of life, never mind the necessities. So Harvest Festivals are important because they help us to be truly thankful for “our daily bread” and for all the other material blessings we enjoy which countless millions in the world do not.
It is also right that we should all be aware of the part that farmers have in providing the food we all eat. It is too easy to assume that beans grow in endless supply in tin cans. I used to take parties of junior school children from the inner city of Manchester just ten miles out of town to camp near a farm. It was the first time many of them had ever seen cows, except on television. Some of the children would not be convinced that the milk they drink actually comes from cows, and does not somehow form in bottles. Harvest Festivals keep us in touch with the real world.
Yet Harvest Festival can have a much deeper significance than stirring us to gratitude or reminding us of the natural world. For there is a principle at work at Harvest-time which is at once simple and profound. We can call it “the seed principle”. It was summarised in some words of Jesus which are often overlooked.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.”
Here is the principle which farmers and gardeners know well. It is only through the lifelessness and apparent death of the seed or the bulb through the winter that new life can come in the spring. We must sacrifice the grain this year if we want a crop next year. We see the same pattern in the butterfly, which emerges to new life only through the death of the caterpillar into the chrysalis. In so many ways the world of nature demonstrates this principle, “through death to life”. In it is revealed part of God’s pattern of working in His world and His design for our living too.
For Jesus, the seed principle was expressed in his self-sacrifice on the cross. It was only because of his death that his resurrection life can come to us also. For us the same principle reminds us of Jesus’s teaching, that it is only by dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
We live in a world which devalues self-sacrifice, where success is measured by how much we can get and not by how much we give. Harvest-time embodies the seed principle, through death to life, and challenges us to live by it too.