Harvest Thanksgiving!? Deuteronomy 26:1-11 might seem strange: the farmer is to take some of the first of his produce, and publicly acknowledge it as God’s gift. Then he is to celebrate, sharing with others, including resident aliens. You might find that interesting, even quaint, but a little remote. We don’t farm, and too often we don’t give thanks, or recognise the gifts and goodness of God either.
Giving thanks is important. You don’t give thanks for what is your due, your earnings – though you might say thank you to someone who makes the effort to calculate and hand over your wages. And too often we imagine that what we have is our due, earned by hard work. Think a little harder. Yes, you may well have worked and saved. Where did the energy come from, the intelligence that made it possible, the life without which nothing would have happened? Natural processes – yes, certainly they are the means, but unless you believe it all to be chance without reason or purpose, then God’s providence is responsible.
For Christians, life is a gift, as is health, energy, intelligence. Work, though it can be mindless and dehumanising, should not be so and is what we are meant for. So we recognise that God is the giver of so many good things, and we give thanks. Sometimes thanksgiving is reduced to good manners, something to teach children – and reject as adults. That’s a mistake. Giving thanks is a reminder of gift. It establishes a relationship.
Thank you God, for food and shelter, often taken for granted or forgotten. Thank you for the goodness and generosity with which you give – not confining us to grey barrack block housing and endless tasteless porridge to keep us alive. Now – what was it you intended me to do with the life, energy, and intelligence you gave? How can I react to the danger in which we have placed the very environment of the whole earth? We could talk about the ecological crisis, and how we respond. We could talk about vocation – the “calling” of each Christian to find how their gifts and personality are meant to be used with others for the good of all. . .
You might think that I am building too much on an Old Testament harvest liturgy, but I would point you to Jesus words (John 6:25-35) as he debates with those who came to the feeding of the 5,000, and want more free lunches. What do they have to do? To trust the one God sent – Jesus. Not to keep rules, but to learn from the bread of life, and live in relationship to him and in the way he lives in relationship – to God, creation, and other people.
Thanksgiving for harvest is old, and still important. Giving thanks reminds us of gifts received, and opens a relationship. We have to resist delusions of self-sufficiency, and learn proper dependance on God. Oh yes, and we have to celebrate, sharing with all sorts of people!