Today we might look around us and notice the things we cannot do at church that we’d normally rejoice in doing…
- singing favourite Harvest hymns,
- admiring all the produce brought in in recent days by the children of Bollington Cross School – mountains of fruit, vegetables, tins, packets adorning every ledge and all destined for HOPE Central Foodbank
- shaking our neighbours’ hands or embracing at the Sharing of the Peace
- catching someone’s eye and smiling in acknowledgement (well – we can still do that of course, but the other person can’t really see you smiling behind the mask).
Then usually at Harvest we’d have an interactive sermon involving hordes of excited children, who’d then come around during the Offertory hymn to collect your money donations in little buckets, looking up at you like little baby birds – which one of you could refuse to empty your pockets, handbags and wallets in response to those pleading eyes?…
And those same children cannot freely roam round our church any more, nor assist at the altar for the time being.
Oh, and we cannot share the wine of Communion, only the consecrated bread. We must simply remain in our places instead of coming forward to kneel or stand at the altar-rail, whilst the Vicar in a mask comes round to serve each of us in turn where we are…
Yes, we can sit here contemplating all those things, actions, gestures, which we have come to value as part of our churchgoing, things we took for granted as part of our freedom to worship, even to the extent of not needing ever before to book our place here in advance, just assuming there would always be room for us when we turned up at the door in answer to God’s open invitation…
We can sit here today and mourn what we have lost, even if, God willing, only temporarily – but instead, from the strange vantage point of our socially distanced seat, we can choose to look around us and to take in the new perspective offered to us inside church, and to give thanks for the many blessings afforded to us by our building today:
- the flexibility of having comfy chairs that can be arranged safely in a socially distanced way
- much more floor space available round the baptistry
- the unwonted burst of light now streaming into the nave from the previously obscured windows at the back of the church
- the beautifully crafted solid wood of the new store cupboards and of the new kitchen and fire escape doors
And the new opportunities for better hospitality and welcome and nurture that our new kitchen space will offer when the time is right in the future to welcome everyone back in to share God’s banquet and those signs of the kingdom symbolised in us caring for the vulnerable, the lonely, the weary, the marginalised, the care-worn, as well as rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, over a glass of sherry or a cup of tea or coffee.
Harvest Thanksgiving is a time to notice our blessings, large or small, the “daily bread” God provides, the fresh water we are privileged to drink, the ease with which most of us reach into our kitchen cupboards and need not go hungry…
O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure… For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is.our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.Isaiah 25:1-9
Our Old Testament reading today reminds us of God’s ultimate plan to offer an amazing, truly “world-beating” feast for all peoples to share which will be “simply the best” – and which will celebrate the destruction of the shroud that is presently cast over all humanity, the grief and fear that surrounds us as mortals – the longed for time when death has been swallowed up for ever, and God will wipe away every tear and every degradation, and we shall be made whole again.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say. Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:4-9
Paul encourages us to rejoice – against all the odds and in spite of appearances to the contrary – “not to worry about anything” – keep praying, and your hearts and minds will be infused and guarded by God’s all-encompassing and healing robe of true peace, which is beyond all understanding… Hold fast to and keep in your sightline everything that is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise and keep on doing those small things that show kindness and create beauty, and share God’s rich harvest bounty with others around you who need to hear words of hope and receive your acts of generosity.
Once more Jesus spoke to the chief priests and Pharisees in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”Matthew 22:1-14
In our Gospel parable Jesus speaks of how all those invited to God’s banquet need to be ready to accept the invitation in the first place, but more than that, we need to put on the generous gift of the splendid wedding garment that in Jesus’ culture every good host would have offered at the entrance door, and which in the story clearly was declined by one guest who thought it was somehow demeaning to be offered another robe. Let us not in our pride or any false assumption of our self-sufficiency, turn down God’s final gift of clothing us with His grace and His love, so much more splendid and effective than our own. And let us rejoice in being God’s guests, humbly being served here at his table and so empowered to go out into the world to share that banquet of kindness and joy and peace with others.
We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast:
for here we receive you,
here the memory of your passion is renewed,
here our minds are filled with grace,
and here a pledge of future glory is given,
when we shall feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.