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City Church

THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN, HENLEY-ON-THAMES

Harvest Thanksgiving

Sep 26, 2020, Author: Fr Jeremy Tayler

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Deuteronomy 8:7-18
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Psalm 65
Luke 12:16-31

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Amen

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give thanks and praise.
Father, we give you thanks and praise
Through your beloved Son Jesus Christ, your living Word,
Through whom you have created all things;

These words are hopefully familiar to you: they come from the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer which I pray for us all at the altar Sunday by Sunday, sometimes with small variations depending on the season and the day. Today we celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving, but it is easy to overlook the fact that the Eucharist which we celebrate together Sunday by Sunday is always a thanksgiving. That is what the word means: εὐχαριστίαis simply the Greek for thanksgiving. And the Eucharist which we celebrate Sunday by Sunday also has a very obvious connection with harvest, as the gifts which we bring to the altar are bread and wine, which earth has given and human hands have made.

The Eucharist is the heart of Christian life. It is the thing that Jesus commanded us to do, and it continues in a new way the ancient Jewish tradition of the Passover.

The Eucharist is our thanksgiving for the mighty works of God; first and foremost we remember and we unite ourselves with Jesus’ redeeming act of self-giving love on the Cross, but we give thanks too for the gifts of God in creation, the first pledge of His goodness to us: “who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread and gave you thanks”. The Eucharist, the church’s great prayer of thanksgiving, is the heart of the Christian life, and so we can say that the Christian life is a life shaped by thanksgiving, we can say that it is a life of gratitude.

Both our Old Testament and our Gospel readings today are ultimately warnings against ingratitude.

Moses warns the Israelites against a complacent attitude when they enter the Promised Land. They will grow crops, they will build houses, they will plant vineyards, they will enjoy the fruits of the earth, their flocks will multiply, they will grow wealthy, but they are warned not to exalt themselves, and they are warned not to forget the Lord their God. They must not say that they have acquired their wealth by their own hand; they must rather acknowledge their dependence on the goodness of God.

Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool explores similar territory, but increases the drama and the emotional punch by personalising it.

“Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.”

The Christian life is a life of gratitude, shaped around the Eucharist, the Church’s great prayer of thanksgiving. It is from this gratitude that both humility and generosity flow. If we are truly grateful to God for God’s good gifts, if we recognise our dependence on God for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, if we recognise our dependence on God for our redemption, it should follow quite naturally that we should not be in the habit of thinking too much of ourselves. And likewise, if we recognise God’s generosity to us, it is only a very small step to recognising the obligation of generosity towards others.

It is noteworthy that the warning of Moses to the Israelites in the book of Deuteronomy applies very precisely to the story of western civilisation since the Industrial Revolution, and especially since the beginnings of our consumer society in the 1950s and 60s.

Little by little we have, or at least most of us have, become very comfortable, and even the poorest of us do not for the most part suffer the abject misery of, for example, a medieval serf. We have become very comfortable, we have enjoyed the fruits of our labours, we have built houses, we have acquired wealth, or at least some of us have, and we all too often tell ourselves that it is our own skill and energy that has acquired it, precisely as Moses warns against. And it is no coincidence that as our wealth has increased, we have little by little forgotten about God, again precisely as Moses warns against in the Book of Deuteronomy.

And in consequence we’ve got ourselves into a big mess. We have got ourselves into a big mess in relation to God and in relation to God’s Creation and even in relation to each other, and it is no surprise that from a historical perspective these things have come at the same time: the development of our environmental crises over the last couple of hundred years – crises of pollution, of resource depletion, of extinction, and of climate change – the development of our multiple environmental crises runs in parallel with our abandonment of God. The more we have left God out of the picture, the more we have ceased to be grateful to God for God’s gifts in creation, the more our relationship with God’s Creation has been thrown wildly out of kilter.

So today gives us an opportunity to be grateful: to be grateful for this wonderful earth which provides us with everything that is necessary for our lives, and delights us with its beauty and variety; to be grateful for the food that we eat, to be grateful that we do not have to be hungry, to be grateful for the nutrition and the pleasure that food gives us; to be grateful for all those many hands that are involved in the provision of food – first and foremost the farmers, whose work is often hard and lonely, but also those who work in the distribution chains, in shops and restaurants; and above all to be grateful to God, who is the source of all of these things.

Today gives us an opportunity to be grateful, and through that gratitude it gives us an opportunity to begin the process of resetting those broken relationships between humanity and God, humanity and Creation, and also within human society itself.

In the Eucharist which we celebrate this morning, we acknowledge our dependence on God, who creates, preserves and redeems us; we acknowledge our dependence on God’s good creation, in providing us with the material necessities of both our physical and our sacramental life; and we acknowledge our dependence on one another, in the many and varied economic, social and familial relationships that make up human society, and within the church which is Christ’s earthly body. When in gratitude we learn to acknowledge our dependence, we also learn a deeper respect, humility and generosity towards God, towards creation, and towards one another.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Amen.