This weekend was Harvest Festival. When I was little, we’d set off to church for it, laden with bounty from the garden – marrows and broad beans; redcurrants and gooseberries – and we’d decorate every corner of the church with our harvest offerings. The altar would be surrounded by sheaves of corn and elaborately plaited bread, and we’d sing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ like we’d all personally done so.
Nowadays we all take donations for the Foodbank, and I sometimes wonder what kind of sense it makes to keep having harvest festivals when most of us have at best a tenuous link to the land. Research suggests that a third of British children don’t even know that milk comes from cows. But Harvest offerings are part of a wider and older tradition of making offerings to the divine. The thank offerings of the First Fruits and tithes in Judaism and Christianity, and Zakat in Islam, are traditions that make those blessed with a harvest take steps to share it with those less fortunate: the exuberant garden produce festooning the pulpit was always carefully packed away after the service, to be given to the local hostel, as the Foodbank offerings are today. And it’s this annual pause to celebrate our good fortune, together as a community, that makes Harvest Festival such an important fixture in the calendar.
In marking it, what the ancient religions remind us of, is that we shouldn’t merely give thanks: we should also give. No society thrives when the haves forget the have-nots, on whose labour they so often depend; and it’s a scandal that 30% of children in the UK are living in poverty. In the same way that the global climate strikes remind us not to take the planet for granted, Harvest reminds us not to take our good fortune for granted. As the gospels put it: “to whom much is given, of him much will be required.” That’s why Harvest reminds me that I should always share what I have, no matter how little or how much, because it’s only by sharing what we have, that we’ll all flourish together as a global community.
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.