Connections – a celebration for Harvest Festival. Adel Parish Church

holding hands

Connections – a celebration for Harvest Festival, Adel Parish Church. Oct 4th 2020

In China in 1958, as part of the ‘Great leap forward’, a campaign was launched to rid the country of sparrows. Sparrows, after all, were gobbling up fruit and grain needed to feed people. Soon 1 billion sparrows had been killed. Of course, it turned out not to be that simple. The sparrows had been eating more insects than grain…particularly locusts…locust populations exploded…

Soon, far from increasing, harvests had reduced by 70%, mass starvation followed. Killing the sparrows wasn’t the only cause…but it certainly didn’t help. It’s a good example of how interconnected nature is…and how we too are part of this web.

Harvest festival has always been a celebration of our connection with, and need for nature…as we thank God for the harvest…for crops safely gathered in. In recent years, with people less connected to the land, Harvest has also been a chance to remember our dependence on farmers and others who produce food…and how they depend on us paying a fair price.

This year, interdependence seems an even more relevant focus for our Harvest celebrations. When the pandemic hit in March, we were suddenly made aware of how much we depend on one another – of how connected we are even in a world where many people hardly knew their neighbours.

We were forcibly reminded of how our lives depend on the many low paid workers often taken for granted. Care workers, refuse collectors, teaching assistants, hospital cleaners all found themselves on a list of ‘key-workers’.

Perhaps even more disruptive to our picture of society was the inclusion of fruit pickers and supermarket shelf stackers. As the official key-worker list described them…’those involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food’ had never seemed so vital to our daily lives. It’s obvious when you think about it – but in normal times we take it for granted that we can buy whatever we want, whenever we want. And we don’t always think much about those who put it there.

That very long list of key workers brought home to us just how much we depend on one another…how we are part of a community. How a problem for one part of that community is a problem for us all.

This virus has brought home the importance of community in more deadly ways. Restrictions have stolen our times together, even with family. Restrictions have stolen our children’s schooling; our dream wedding, our chance to gather to mourn loved ones…in losing them, we’ve realised how life-giving these connections are.

Yet we need restrictions because we are so connected…and the virus exploits this…spreading most easily when we gather. The paradox of this harvest is that the virus has helped us rediscover how connected we are – and made many of those connections impossible.

But Harvest is a time of celebration. So let’s celebrate our rediscovery of community: people who’ve reached out to elderly neighbours to offer help…and the friendships which have grown as a result;  small local shops who stocked essentials…delivered to the vulnerable; gardeners and carers who became shoppers; young families sending cards to cheer older people and ensure they don’t feel alone; friendships which have blossomed out of phone calls.

Let’s celebrate how love has found a way. In words the Archbishop of York used at Synod last week, ‘We have learned that at the moment the best way to love one another is to keep a distance. And we have learned that love transcends boundaries and can easily jump 2 metres.’

But traditionally Harvest is also a time for action. We have our Foodbank collection – sadly more needed than ever. Do come along to the churchyard and add to it. But perhaps this year we can also act to build on the connectedness we’ve found.

Let’s do our bit to make sure restrictions are upheld and work for the common good. Let’s remember how local businesses supported us when we needed them; and think about supporting them not just when we run out of milk.

Whenever we find ourselves in a position to speak about or influence political decisions, let’s remember the value of the lowest paid in our society and speak out for their rights. We clapped our carers; let’s support them in more concrete ways.

And above all let’s build on the community links that have grown. Let’s come out of this horrible time with new traditions, things that grew out of necessity but turned out to be even better than what they replaced.

The slaughter of sparrows in China had unexpected consequences. Large upheavals always do.

An unexpected consequence of social distancing has been the rediscovery of community. An unexpected consequence of closing church buildings and restrictions on worship has perhaps been to refocus our faith.

We’ve been forced to reevaluate what it means to be Christian. And we’ve found that although the building and the rituals enrich our faith, faith survives without them, because it is Christ on whom we depend.

The removal of the usual ways we meet with Christ has forced us to think about what they meant to us, and why. Recognising what we miss has helped us find new ways to engage with Christ.

So, this harvest as we celebrate the web that binds us together, we do so knowing that the whole web is also bound in the love of Christ. He is the glue that joins us and holds us. He is the source of creativity, energy and love that will help us build new links and sustain us in the coming months.

This harvest – as we thank God for his goodness, let’s thank him for creating us to live in community. Let’s celebrate our interdependence, and pledge ourselves to work for the good of all. And above all, let’s remember our connection to Christ who in his life showed us how to value everyone, and through his death and resurrection gives us the courage to depend on him.

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