Thursday, November 27, 2014

Raise the Song of Harvest Home

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Come, Ye Thankful People Come," is  a traditional Thanksgiving hymn, and its first verse is directly related to the harvest and being thankful. After that, though, it keeps the harvest language but turns eschatological.

Come, ye thankful people, come, 
raise the song of harvest home; 
all is safely gathered in, 
ere the winter storms begin. 
God our Maker doth provide 
for our wants to be supplied; 
come to God's own temple, come, 
raise the song of harvest home.

We move from fall into winter. The weather grows colder, the colors fade from the trees, and it grows darker. Everything seems a little greyer, a little bleaker. So we sing. We sing to our God who is Light, in whom we are children of Light.

Our call as thankful people is to come and sing to God, God who is not only our Maker but the Maker of all creation and the One who provides for us. We sing because God creates. We sing because God provides. We sing in praise of our Lord. We sing in gratefulness to the One who watches over us. We sing to a God of seasons, a God who helps us weather the storms, a God who welcomes us into God's own temple, where we can dwell forever in the presence of the Lord.

All the world is God's own field, 
fruit as praise to God we yield; 
wheat and tares together sown  
are to joy or sorrow grown; 
first the blade and then the ear, 
then the full corn shall appear; 
Lord of harvest, grant that we 
wholesome grain and pure may be. 

We are the Lord's. We grow in God's field, and it is God who tends us. We are surrounded by God's blessings, and so we give back, and all that we give back is praise to the God who loved us first and loves us still. We give back by worshiping the Lord, by living in love. We give our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. We give song. In everything, we give first fruits. We give these things to the Lord, to the Church, to the world that is the Lord's, all in praise of God. In thanks and praise to the God who creates and tends us, we seek to live every moment to God's glory. We seek to be wholesome grain, to be pure.

It is not quick to grow into wholesome grain, and it is not easy to be pure. First the blade, and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. We grow, and we await the harvest. We are not alone in the field. There is joy and sorrow and bitterness and delight all around us, sown together. In justification we know that we are children of God, we know whose field this is, but it is in sanctification that we grow to joy.

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

"Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." Every time we proclaim the mystery of faith together, we proclaim a Lord who died for our sake, who rose and conquered death, and will come again to "take the harvest home." These last two verses reference the Parable of the Tares from Matthew 13. This verse borrows from Jesus' explanation of the parable in verses 40-43: "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (Remember when I said this hymn turned eschatological?)

The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The fruitful ears will be stored in the garner, that is, the harvest's home, evermore. We seek to grow to joy, to be wholesome grain, in order to reach that home, in order to be among the fruitful ears. But on our own none of us is truly a fruitful ear, truly wholesome grain, truly pure. It is the Lord of harvest who grants that we may so be; it is by Christ who has died and is risen.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.

In the first verse we call the thankful people to God's temple to praise the Lord. Here it is God who comes to gather the people in. In verse two we pray to the Lord that we will be pure. Here, in the final harvest, we are forever purified. There is no more sorrow, there is no more sin, and there are no more winter storms. There is only the Lord's presence.

The final harvest is the glorious harvest, the Lord's harvest. All harvests before are the work of our hands, harvests among many harvests, offerings not once and for all but time and time again, harvests that sustain but do not free. The final harvest, the glorious harvest, is the harvest that frees us and unites us. It is not only the song of harvest that is raised home, but the harvest itself.

Thanks be to God.

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