Reflection – Sermon from Revd Canon Janet Nicholls
Rural Adviser to the Diocese of Chelmsford
As it says on the tin, Harvest Thanksgiving calls us to give thanks! In a year dominated by the fear
and loss of a pandemic, perhaps giving thanks doesn’t come easily. But good food nourishes the
body. It’s an essential component of building and maintaining health. As we learn to live with this
virus around us, giving thanks to God for the nutritious resources of our land seems especially
timely. Likewise giving thanks for those who work the land to produce our food. The rural parishes
of our diocese were alive with busy buzz of harvest in July and August. We had superb harvest
weather. Farm vehicles were out and about day and night. It certainly seemed to be a case of ‘making
hay whilst the sun shone’.
This year, ‘All was safely gathered in’ with relative ease. So a rosy picture we might conclude, but
what was gathered was less rosy. With alarming regularity farmers are telling me, ‘This is the worst
harvest I can remember’. Extreme weather
disrupted both the planting and the growing season. Arable
wheat and barley, have been disappointing at best, terrible at worst. Yields
been compared to those of the 1976 drought.
Events of this year seeded a renewed interest in the countryside. During anxious times, many people
reported a renewed spiritual and
emotional connection with nature. Some people noticed agricultural
the fields surrounding their homes. One of my favourite walks includes a
across an arable field. This year I watched the wheat grow
from the footpath. By July I sensed I was
observing something of the parable of the sower before my eyes.
There was thin wheat, short wheat, patchy wheat, completely bald patches of soil and some
reasonably strong wheat all in the same field. Such variation wasn’t uncommon this year, such were
the stops and starts of this growing season. This field brought forth low grain yields and a poor crop
of straw for livestock too. When the
combine harvester had finished its work, I was delighted to see
mountain of manure arrive in the field! The soil of this field was to be fed
and nourished by
the most basic form of natural recycling (!), meaning less
dependency on chemical fertilisers. Soil
needs to be fertile,nutrient-rich and resilient to produce
nutritious food. Good soil is the foundation
of farming. Albert Howard author of ‘Agricultural
Testament’, goes as far as saying ‘Fertility of the
soil is the future of civilisation’.
Such knowledge has been at the heart of agrarian communities for thousands of years. It’s no
surprise that Jesus used the image of good soil to illustrate something crucial to his listeners. He
talked about the word of God becoming embedded in us, taking root in us so that the abundance of
God’s love grows from us as from seeds embedded in good soil.
Imagine your soul as good, rich nutritious soil. Into that soil, the word of God and teaching of Christ
takes root, really takes root. Whatever extremes of life pummel us, at the heart of our soul, in that
rich soil, is a seed of hope, peace and joy that won’t be uprooted.
There might be all sorts of supposed growth around us:
• big fast ideas that grow quickly and fizzle out;
• growth that requires all sorts of greedy resources that diminish the growth of others;
• growth that looks as if it will provide attractive rewards but the rewards are choked by the
thorns of this way of life.
In the end, if we nurture and feed the good rich soil of faith we’ll enable the word of God to root in
us deeply. And then we’ll grow in the wonderful ways God intends for his precious children and this
world we inhabit.
The harvest of 2020 has been one of the toughest for a long time. The financial impact on some
farming families will be severe. This is a year for supporting our farmers. Social action is in your
shopping trolley. If we buy British food, we’re also supporting sustainability, local employment and
more vibrant rural communities. It’s the practical way of giving the thanks that’s at the heart of our
This harvest we give thanks for our farmers, for our food and for the amazing resilience of God’s
creation. Despite the extreme weather, some crops came to fruition. It seems especially important
to give thanks for this less abundant harvest. It is especially precious. Perhaps a poor harvest reminds
us to live simply to ensure there’s enough to share with everyone; to respect our food and certainly
not waste it.