by Michael Hinman, Reader
Apart from the maize and sugar beet, this year’s harvest ought by now to be “safely gathered in,” and congregations have sung “Come ye thankful people, come”. Round here, the rape seed and winter-sown grains were harvested by late August, and of course the hay was mown well before then.
The timing of the harvest depends on what the weather has been doing over the months since sowing, but on the whole nature evens out its wet and dry spells over the growing season. There are years when things are up to a month behindhand, but the farmer has the melancholy compensation that his neighbours are in the same plight. Nonetheless, the farmer, the grain merchant and the landowner will each be keeping a weather eye out for when to harvest; “fair waved the golden corn,” and it is beautiful to behold, but it is always a relief for those involved when it has been “safely gathered in.”
Overall, the timing of harvest is not so different from what it was fifty years ago, but what is harvested has changed. Strains of wheat and barley continue to be developed to produce higher yields and the cereals’ stalks are shorter so that they are less buffeted by storms. Stubble may no longer be burned. Hay and silage are still grown for animal feed but maize is now used a lot in feed-mixtures. The decades when butter was under suspicion played their part in promotion of oil seed rape, but its increase was essentially thanks to subsidies. Grubbing-up of hedgerows is largely a thing of the past, but the hedges have become higher. Machinery is bigger and manufactured internationally for a global market. Combines can harvest during both day and night.
The old harvest hymns refer to Jesus’ own use of the harvest as an analogy for our lives, here and hereafter: “We ourselves are God’s own field, Fruit unto his praise to yield” when we are gathered in at our lives’ ends. However, we should recognise that we of this generation are not the same people as we were fifty years ago (if we were around then) and that we are all different from how people were fifty years ago who were the same age then as we are now. Like farming, society as a whole has been subject to enormous technological change, never mind social change. Thinking only of the Church of England, fifty years ago it was happy to have a woman as its Supreme Governor in the person of the Queen – but women priests? There were not even any female lay readers until 1969, but now the prospect of a woman as Archbishop of Canterbury is not impossible, even though some would object to it on theological grounds.
So we don’t start from the same place as used to be the case. Fifty years ago, a reforming Home Secretary could claim that “The permissive society is the civilised society,” but the majority of the population would probably not have agreed with him: regarding relationships and morality the majority nowadays probably would. How should Christians react to current moral dilemmas with compassion and yet be faithful to the Bible? If “We ourselves are God’s own field, Fruit unto his praise to yield,” we need to let God earth us in reality, be sustained through reading of the Bible and watered by the Holy Spirit so that we produce a harvest of righteousness that is fit for the times that we live in.