Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 27th September 2020.
We are at that time of year when we normally have a special Sunday service, following centuries of tradition, to say thank you to God for the harvest. Most churches usually have a greater attendance for the Harvest Festival than they do for any other services in the year, apart from Christmas and Easter, and perhaps Mothering Sunday. We like to gather, to thank God for the many blessings we receive from him and to sing all the harvest hymns we have known and loved since we were children.
This year will be different. Many churches will be closed and have no Harvest Festival service; other churches will be operating on a limited pre-booking basis, so that they can limit attendance to comply with social distancing rules; and some churches will be open but not have a special Harvest Festival service at all, so as not to encourage a larger attendance than they can cope with, though they might just slip in the odd harvest hymn at a regular Communion service – which the congregation, under current restrictions, will not be allowed to sing! Such are the times that we live in. Sadly, we have had to cancel our own planned Drive-In Harvest Festival at Marholm, owing to tighter Covid restrictions coming into force since we first planned it.
But saying thank you is not something that is or should be confined to harvest-time. Of course, we do give thanks to God at Christmas and Easter, that he sent his Son to be our Saviour, and on Mothering Sunday we give thanks for all that our mothers have been to us. But I suggest that we owe it to God to be saying thank you to him every single day of the year. We can never say thank you enough to God. It should be our daily priority, even if we only say thank you to God for each new day. A medieval German theologian called Eckhart von Hochheim said: “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you’, that would be enough.”
I expect that those of you reading this, and who have children, will have taught your children from an early age to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. And we hope that they carry what they have been taught throughout their adult lives. But I am sure that, like me, you come across many people – children, teenagers and adults – who are not good at saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. I expect, like me, you have all at some time had the experience of holding a door open for someone in a public place and found that the person does not thank you or even give you any eye contact. If they are not able to say thank you for small things, one wonders if they are grateful for more important things in life. When I am researching for my Thoughts for the Day, I often come across old, interesting, foreign proverbs, which seem to be in point. And one I have come across, which summaries the point I am making here, is from Estonia (would you believe it!): ‘Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.’
When we say thank you to someone, we do it for one of two reasons. Firstly, we say thank you when someone provides us with something we have requested, for example, when someone delivers food we have ordered in a restaurant, or when God has answered our prayers. Secondly, we give thanks for something not asked for, for example, an unexpected gift from someone. But more important in this category is the thanks we should give to God for the wonders of the natural world that we enjoy and his many gifts and blessings – the gifts of well-being, our food, our homes, our families and friends, and so forth.
Gifts (of help or material things) and thanks should be inseparable. We should not take people or things for granted. If we do not give thanks, it shows that we are ungrateful, that we are self-centred, that we expect things as of right, rather than by the grace of others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, who was hanged in a German concentration camp in the Second World War, said this: “In ordinary life we hardly realise that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.”
Despite all the troubles we are facing during the current pandemic, there are many things that we should be thankful for: the beauty of God’s creation; the families and friends we love and who stand by us and support us; those who risk infection, treating the sick or providing food and other life essentials for others, or those maintaining public services, whilst many have to isolate (to name just a few things). Giving thanks means not complaining about what we don’t have, but thanking God for what we do have – and the list will be endless, even in these difficult times. The seventeenth century English writer, Izaac Walton, who wrote ‘The Compleat Angler’ said: “God has two dwellings – one in heaven and the other in a thankful heart.”
Forgive me for finishing by indulging in a bit of childish nostalgia, but whenever Harvest Festival time comes around, I always recall (and perhaps a few of you may do too), in addition to all the well-known harvest hymns, a sung grace taught in primary school (and sung to one of the tunes for the hymn ‘Loving shepherd of thy sheep’), which summed up for me as a child (and it still does!) what being thankful is all about:
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you, God, for everything.
Thanks be to God. Amen.