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Sunday 2 October 2022: Harvest

16 June 2022

Giving thanks for bread

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Philippians 4:4-9, John 6:25-35

 

By Mark Betson

Anglican National Public Policy Advisor on Rural Affairs

 

Context: a Harvest Festival service for a congregation of varied age and relevant for most settings

Aim: to give thanks for the food we eat

The Harvest Festival service at its heart seeks to recognise the importance of food in our lives and our dependence on creation to provide it. Food is a gift from God, and we seek to give thanks to God for it. While this core purpose of the Harvest Festival may be overlooked in times of plenty, when the cost of food makes it difficult to feed a family well or where climate change or war threaten food supplies thankfulness for achieving the basic necessities comes sharply into focus and the reason for celebrating the harvest being ‘safely gathered in’ becomes immediately apparent.

FOOD AS A GIFT FROM GOD

The fruitfulness of the land in the passage from Deuteronomy is key in comparison with the oppression the people suffered in Egypt and the privations of the wilderness during the Exodus. It is a gift that God led the people to through many signs and wonders, not least in the interim by providing manna, bread from heaven to eat.

This is a theme Jesus picks up in the reading from John where he points out the comparison to the people who have followed him noting that it was not because of the signs and wonders he did but because he gave them bread and they ate their fill. He goes on to remind them that the bread they received in the wilderness during the Exodus was a gift from God and meant to lead them to greater understanding about their dependence on God who gives life to the world. The need to satisfy people’s basic requirement for food is seen as a stepping-stone for people being able to find God and to recognise God in the world.

FOOD THAT PERISHES

In the reading from John Jesus tells the people not to work for food that perishes. If we look again at the story of the Exodus, we see that the manna that was provided by God was only sufficient for the needs of the people – when they tried to gather more than they needed it rotted (Exodus 16:20). In the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) a wealthy man seeks to gather more wealth with an abundant harvest but is called a fool by God for failing to seek God before worldly comfort. Jesus’ comment about not working for bread that perishes is not intended to say seeking food is worthless but more that seeking excess is worthless. Why seek more than you can eat?

BREAD OF HEAVEN

At the end of the passage from John we hear Jesus say that he is the bread of life, and this image is taken further at the Last Supper where he takes the bread of the Passover and says ‘Take eat; this is my body.’ (Matthew 26:26). Bread is significant, food is significant, in our spiritual lives as well as for our bodily needs. It is used as a metaphor but is also a sacrament and how we give thanks for this gift from God and take it seriously in our daily living, our daily bread, reflects on us. In times of plenty it becomes easy to take food for granted but when we cannot afford it or when it is simply not there our perspective radically alters and we will do almost anything to get the food our family depend on us for. This is an experience many more people will encounter as food prices rise, harvests fail, or war stops the tending of crops. As I am writing this we are emerging from a pandemic and facing food price inflation in the UK and around the world. There are sanctions and a war in Ukraine that will see potentially 30% of the world’s grain supply under threat. In many places around the world today climate change has progressively impacted on harvests. The value of food as a gift from God should never be underestimated and our practice in consuming, sharing and giving thanks for that gift should reflect how much we value it.

 

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