A Harvest Lament – words for Adel Parish Church harvest evensong. Oct 4th 2020.
Harvest has always been one of my favourite church celebrations. As a child it was a time of making a basket of fruit and veg to take to church; singing harvest hymns; and best of all, the church barn dance. This was a magnificent occasion of pooled supper, putting on our long dresses (yes I did own a dress or two in those days), relearning how to strip the willow, and best of all, it didn’t end until midnight!
Harvest – not one of the beautiful, sombre times in the church calendar – but a chaotic community celebration. The festival always has that wonderful anarchic point where an apparently endless stream of gifts are brought up, with the first hymn having to be sung on repeat.
Harvest a reminder of the certainties of life. Leaves will fall, conkers will ripen, the harvest will be gathered in and celebrated in church.
I have to admit that this year it’s been hard to celebrate. Autumn leaves, conkers, harvest have still come round – but this seems merely to underline how few of our old certainties are still there.
Last Sunday our wonderful small choir began to rehearse as I cleared up at the end of the service. In many ways it was such a joyful sound…sacred music sung once more in this ancient place. But actually, I wanted to cry.
That harvest anthem – the only one I ever remember singing as a child – seemed more like a lament.
But although it’s not usually a part of harvest, lament has always been part of the journey of faith. Tonight we shared the beautiful psalm 42. I chose it partly for those words…’ When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.’
God’s people have been lamenting for thousands of years. Not because they have lost hope – but because it’s ok to admit to each other and to God when we’re finding things tough.
It is almost exactly a year since my first services here, when I looked forward to travelling through the church year with you all. I find that today I need to lament what I have lost, what we have lost this year. And as usual when I don’t have the words…I reached for poetry to help me.
Firstly, a book I used in this service last year…at harvest it seems appropriate to ask nature to help us speak.
Little astronaut, where have you gone, and why is your song still torrenting on?
Aren’t you short of breath as you climb higher, up there in the thin air, with your magical song still tumbling on?
Right now I need you, for my sadness has come again and my heart grows flatter – so I’m coming to find you by following your song.
Keeping on into deep space, past dying stars and exploding suns, to where at last, little astronaut, you sing your heart out at all that dark matter.
I love the song of the sky lark, and have been very aware of them this year, especially early on when traffic noise was so much reduced. I love the song, but I find it plaintive, almost like a lament.
Plaintive – but still – as the poem says – singing its heart out at all that dark matter.
A beautiful parallel from the natural world for the lament of God’s people. For lament is not despair. It is sorrow for what is lost, held in the knowledge and trust of God’s steadfast love.
So, like the skylark, the psalmist can end with words of hope, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.’
So tonight, I come before God with tears of lament for what has been lost this year. But also as befits a harvest celebration, with tears of joy and gratitude for his faithful love, that is surer than the harvest.