Three related Harvest talks by Mother Katie.
LAMENT, REAP, SOW
These are the three words I have chosen for us to focus on this Harvest.
To lament means to passionately grieve, to express loss or sorrow, to complain and protest.
And at the Harvest of 2020 I think we must make room for Lament as so much has been lost this year including over 1 million people worldwide from Covid19 – many in the prime of life or even with life barely begun – amongst them in our own country – Rev Peter Holmes – an excellent and neighbouring priest from Norbiton – 29 London bus drivers – 540 doctors, nurses and health care workers in the UK – 5 children including a 13 day old baby. Over 50,000 people in this country have officially died from Covid – others have died whilst having it but from other causes.
I have taken more funerals in the past year than I have in previous 2 and half years I have been here.
But it isn’t just death: weddings; baptism; operations; holidays; concerts and plays have all had to be cancelled or changed. This year our choir missed the chance to sing at St Johns Smith Square – and the St James Players have had to cancel both plays and this year’s pantomime.
We’ve been told to keep distance from each other – and how difficult that is at times – the grieving widow alone at the graveside; the weeping parishioner or friend you can’t touch; the weeks inside when for some people they did not receive the comfort of human touch in any way.
We can not celebrate this year without first lamenting. For it has been hard.
Many of the Psalms in the Bible are the language of lament and I have found particular comfort in praying them during this time.
Walter Brueggemann says “I suggest that most of the Psalms can only be appropriately prayed by the people who are living at the edge of their lives, sensitive to the raw hurts, the primitive passions, and the naïve elations that are at the bottom of our life. For most of us, liturgical devotional entry in the Psalms requires a real change of pace. It asks us to depart from the closely managed world of public survival, to move into the open, frightening, healing world of speech with the Holy One.”
And that is where I want us to arrive this Harvest – the healing world of speech with the Holy One – which first and foremost requires honesty.
As Brueggemann goes on to say lament is not the polite language of piety – but “The voice of those who say ‘We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore!’”
So let’s begin by hearing this modern Psalm written in the middle of lockdown by Rev Kenneth Howcroft. Like the Psalms of the Bible – it begins in protest, asks awkward questions, but ends in praise – for that is where all honest conversation with God finally lands.
A Psalm of lament and praise in a time of coronavirus
How shall we praise you, Lord, our God?
When we are locked down,
how shall we praise you?
When the doors to your house are barred,
and your people cannot assemble?
When those desperately in need of money and work
cannot even wait in the market-place?
When we have to circle round people in the street,
and to queue for shops maintaining safe distance?
When we can only communicate
by hearing on the phone,
or seeing on the screen;
or digitally messaging,
or even just waving through a window?
When we cannot meet our parents and children,
grandparents and grandchildren,
or other family members and friends?
When we cannot touch them in their flesh and blood,
to know they are really alive?
How shall we praise you?
How, like Thomas, shall we not see yet believe
that your son is raised among us?
How shall we praise you?
How can I praise you, Lord?
Are you plaguing us with this virus
to punish us because we have all done wrong,
or thought wrongly,
or felt wrongly,
or just been wrong?
If so, why do only some die,
and those, apparently, the ones who are the least worst or most caring amongst us?
Or are you trying to teach us a lesson?
If so, why is it so hard to learn?
And how are we to find the answer
when we do not even know the question?
Or are you still the same loving God,
coming to us in our sufferings
and opening up the way to new life in Jesus?
Lord, I will try to praise you.
Through gritted teeth,
I will try to praise you.
I will try to remember that you have created all things,
and this virus is part of your creation.
I will try not to hate it
but seek to mitigate its harm.
I will try to keep myself and others safe.
I will work to pray for them
and seek to help in whatever way I can.
Lord, when I cannot pray or worship
help me be aware of all your people
and your saints and angels
hovering around me,
lifting me up.
When I feel alone,
let me feel you near me,
even if only for a moment that enables me to go on.
Let me hear you say
“Peace be with you”.
Lord, I will praise you.
Let all the peoples praise you.
The Revd Kenneth Howcroft
To reap is to gather, to collect together, to receive, to obtain or be rewarded.
As a farmer you reap the crops when you bring the Harvest in.
Today we are reaping for the Food Bank – by collecting food and toiletries for those who need them most. We are reaping for Christian Aid by collecting donations for their Autumn Appeal. Just £9 will buy 10 cocoa plants for families in Nicaragua. I’m hoping that by the end of the day we will have enough for 100 cocoa plants.
And gathering food and bringing in money is important but there is something else we should remember too.
A story is told of the squirrel who was sunbathing in the late summer sun whilst his fellow squirrels ran around gathering the nuts for winter. When they challenged him on why he wasn’t helping with the effort he replied that he was – he was collecting the memories of delight that would see them through the dark months ahead – reminding them that brighter days would come again.
So I want us to take time today – not just to gather our nuts – but to collect memories of delight that will see us through the dark months.
Can you name something – little or small – that you want to thank God for in the past year? Something that gave delight – some goodness you experienced in the past year?
[At this point, a Church Warden with a microphone moved among the congregation reaping answers which were shared and written up and placed on the altar – as a Harvest thanks to God.]
[What has blessed you this year? What brought joy? Something in church or in school or in work – or wider life – what would you like to give thanks for? Nothing too small or too big – this is our chance to be Sentinels of the Good – people who watch for the blessing.]
For me I want to give thanks for the music of the church which we managed to keep going in various ways through lockdown; I want to give thanks for the pastoral team who have kept in touch with the wider congregation – especially those unable to get to church still; for the gardening group and flower arrangers who bring beauty to our church; for the readers and intercessors who offer their words as worship; for the PCC who help the Wardens and I make wise decisions and steward our finances; for social media that has enabled us to connect with more people; for Zoom that has kept meetings going; for the Food Banks and for those who generously gave in Bodley Road through lockdown – for the charities we support – for you all – who have been so faithful.
To sow is to plant something so that it will grow.
Harvest teaches us an important rhythm of life – we gather in order to give – we reap in order to sow. And in this way – giving away what we get – we receive even more. Much, much more than storing it in barns.
Let me tell you a story about a monk and some grapes.
One morning, a farmer knocked loudly on the door of the monastery. When Brother Porter opened the door, the farmer held out to him a magnificent bunch of grapes.
“Dear Brother Porter, these are the finest grapes from my vineyard. Please accept them as a gift from me.”
“Why, thank you! I’ll take them straight to the Abbot, who will be thrilled with such a gift.”
“No, no. I brought them for you.”
“For me? But I don’t deserve such a beautiful gift from nature.”
“Whenever I knocked on the door, you opened it. When the harvest had been ruined by drought, you gave me a piece of bread and a glass of wine every day. I want this bunch of grapes to bring you a little of the sun’s love, the rain’s beauty and God’s miraculous power.”
Brother Porter put the grapes down where he could see them and spent the whole morning admiring them: they really were lovely. Because of this, he decided to give the present to the Abbot, whose words of wisdom had always been such a boon to him.
The Abbot was very pleased with the grapes, but then he remembered that one of the other monks was ill and thought: “I’ll give him the grapes. Who knows they might bring a little joy into his life.”
But the grapes did not remain for very long in the room of the ailing monk, for he in turn thought: “Brother Cook has taken such good care of me, giving me only the very best food to eat. I’m sure these grapes will bring him a great happiness.” And when Brother Cook brought him his lunch, the monk gave him the grapes. “These are for you. You are in close touch with the gifts Nature gives us, and will know what to do with this, God’s produce.”
Brother Cook was amazed at the beauty of the grapes and drew his assistant’s attention to their perfection. They were so perfect that no one could possible appreciate them more than Brother Sacristan, who had charge of the Holy Sacrament and whom many in the monastery considered to be a truly saintly man.
Brother Sacristan, in turn, gave the grapes to the youngest of the novices in order to help him understand that God’s work is to be found in the smallest details of the Creation.
When the novice received them, his heart was filled with the Glory of God, because he had never before seen such a beautiful bunch of grapes. At the same time he remembered the day he had arrived at the monastery and the person who had opened the door to him; that gesture of opening the door had allowed him to be there now in that community of people who knew the value of miracles.
Shortly before dark, he took the bunch of grapes to Brother Porter.
“Eat and enjoy. You spend most of your time here all alone, and these grapes will do you good.”
Brother Porter understood then that the gift really was intended for him; he savoured every grape and went to sleep a happy man.
What he gave came back to him – but because he let go it brought joy to so many others as well.
We celebrate the Feast of another rather famous monk at this time in the church year too – St Francis – and this prayer – attributed to him sums up so much of the message of Harvest – this prayer expresses what as Christians we are required to sow – and what we shall reap if we do.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life