There’s something special about Harvest, isn’t there? It’s really starting to feel autumnal, and some of the trees are beginning to change colour. And then there’s the agricultural aspect of harvest - reaping the edible benefits from what has been sown and carefully tended. I had a little patch of vegetables this year (only about 2 ft. by 10 ft). There’s still a few more tomatoes coming, but the beans, peppers and courgettes have pretty much finished. But it’s a sad fact that my melons didn’t grow at all this year!
Harvest is a time when we think about the bounty of the earth, and God’s provision to us. We are very blessed in this country. Most of us have more than enough food. Our supermarkets are full of food. Few of us have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. And we have easy access to good, clean running water. Some of us experienced our water supply being cut off for a little while back in May, and I think a lot of us realised then how much we often take our water supply for granted.
And so when Harvest comes around in our Christian calendar, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to thank our generous God for all that he gives... and to remember those people all over the world who struggle to achieve a good harvest of food or water. But for the Christian, Harvest also has a spiritual meaning. And our New Testament reading this morning from the book of Revelation, chapter 14, illustrates this quite dramatically:
‘I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one "like a son of man" with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then [an] angel ...called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, "Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe." So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested’.
‘And the earth was harvested’. If anyone here is unsure why Jesus Christ was sent by God to the earth some 2000-odd years ago, it was for this very reason: to harvest the earth. But what on earth could that mean? At harvest the farmer collects the fruits of the passing season and begins preparation for a new season. So ‘harvest’ is a good metaphor for what Jesus came to do. When Jesus came as Son of God and Son of Man, he completed the old covenant between God and his people. When Jesus died, and was buried, and then resurrected, it was the beginning of the new covenant between God and his people. St. Paul says in Hebrews 8: By calling this covenant "new," [God] has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
This was all pretty radical news to the crowds of people following Jesus around during his ministry, and especially to his fellow Jews. It was a confused and bewildered crowd that got into conversation with Jesus in today’s reading from John’s gospel. If we go back a few verses, this crowd had only just been with Jesus at Tiberius where Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Our reading today happens the day after that amazing miracle of feeding. Listen again to some of the conversation that occurs in our reading of John 6:25-35, this time from The Message paraphrase:
When [the crowd] found him back across the sea, they said, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered, "You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free”.
Jesus is accusing the crowd of following him only to satisfy their empty bellies. He then refocuses the conversation upon more spiritual matters. He says:
"Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last."
Jesus continues saying, "The real significance is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world." "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever”.
The crowd was confused by Jesus because many were looking for a different kind of saviour – a saviour who would show force and power and strength to liberate the Jews from Roman oppression. But because of the spiritual nature of Jesus’ message, in the end many people abandoned him. And the same thing happens today. Seeking a deep personal relationship with Jesus is sometimes thought less important than seeking material or practical answers to human problems. But Jesus is saying the spiritual takes priority over the material because in the final analysis, material things cannot fully satisfy the human soul.
Karl Marx said that "religion is the opium of the people". According to Jesus it’s the very opposite - materialism is the narcotic. Materialism anaesthetises people to the reality that real contentment and real security are found only when we come to know God. A devotion to materialism keeps our deepest needs buried down out of sight where we don’t have to face them. Materialism is addictive – we want more and more of whatever it is, and we lose sight of the person that can fulfil us most completely: God.
The Galilean crowd had tracked Jesus down because they wanted a repeat of the miracle meal. "Open your eyes;" Jesus was saying to them, "the bread you are really looking for is right here. It’s not a something but a Someone. It’s me. I am not just the giver; I am the gift”. This kind of bread seemed hard to swallow. People wanted to know what they needed to do – but Jesus said, ‘Just come to me; just believe in me’. And that’s what he still is saying to us today. Eternal life is not a possession but a gift – and we continually receive this gift through a deepening personal relationship with Him.
Of course Christians look forward to a future when all is made right and new through Jesus, but we miss the point if we lose focus on the kingdom here and now. Jesus taught that God's kingdom is among us (Luke 17:21) - he taught that it’s here and now, it’s in our hearts and so it isn't only something we look forward to after we die but it’s our present reality. We can choose to live within God’s eternal kingdom now by allowing God’s Spirit to live in our hearts and demonstrating God's love to others in our everyday lives.
And we are not afraid because we trust that through Jesus, God is drawing all things to himself. That’s the spiritual meaning behind Harvest. Jesus is the bread of life. He’s the bread that truly satisfies and strengthens us, leading us to reach out and care for other people and for the earth. Jesus is harvesting the earth for God’s kingdom. A loving and living relationship with Jesus enables us to work with him in the ongoing harvest of the world.
A prayer: Generous and merciful God, today may we be thankful in the light of your rich gifts to us. Help us to know how essential you are to our lives. Draw us closer to you, that we may never go hungry. Give us faith in abundance, that we might never be thirsty. And may your transforming joy rise up within us, and overflow into the lives of others across your world. Amen.