A Harvest Prayer

Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, Harvest Sunday (Sept. 23rd), 2012

Lord of all Creation, we give you thanks and praise for the beauty and bounty of this earth, which we reflect on in this season of harvest.  As the Psalmist said,

You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.  
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.  
From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Great gift-giving God, for most of us today in the West, this celebration is perfunctory, a reminder of a quaint and long-ago time when we depended on the rhythm of the seasons, depended on the bounty of summer and autumn to sustain us through the dearth of winter.  Today (even in Scotland) we live in a perpetual summer of bounty, well-fed, supplied with wine and oil in abundance.  We heartily thank you for these blessings, and ask that you would help make us more grateful day by day, but we pray also for deliverance from the blindness and callousness that such easy prosperity can cause.  Help us remember today the billions of our brothers and sisters who do not share in this bounty, many of whom still depend each year on a good harvest to keep any food on their table.

Lord of life, autumn is not only a time of bounty, a time to celebrate the vibrancy and richness of creation, but also a reminder of its fragility, of mortality.  The sun retreats, the warmth and light ebbs, the trees grow brown and wither; even as the fruits fall from laden branches and the fields yield their grain, the plants that give us life shrivel and die, until the cycle of new life begins in Spring.  For us today, Lord, who have been greedily harvesting from nature’s bounty without pause for generations, who have reaped where we have not sown, this reminder of fragility and mortality carries an extra uneasiness, a sense of urgency.  All around us are signs that the cycles of summer and winter, springtime and harvest as we have known them may not last much longer, that after our long harvest of the earth’s resources, creation as a whole withers under the weight of our demands—as Gerald Manley Hopkins lamented,

“all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil; 
and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil 
is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”

Gracious God, forgive us our heedless ways, and give us the courage and conviction to change them.  Teach us how to care for this rich earth rightly, that it may yield its plenteous fruits for future generations, and above all for those in other parts of the world who suffer now in want—want that is magnified by the changing climate, as streams dry up that once were full, grain withers in unprecedented heat, and storms wreak havoc on homes and harvests. 

God our Father, you have created not merely earth, sky, and water, plants and animals, but also the human race, and blessed it with innumerable gifts of wisdom and skill.  At this harvest time, we can thank you for the rich harvest of another sort, in which our church is reaping the fruits of the many human labors that have gone into building up its worship and ministries over many years.  We thank you especially for the harvest of the Connect Groups, years in planning, and finally launched this month.  We pray that you would bless them to become places of loving fellowship and empower them to be beacons of light shining in our communities.  We thank you also for the harvest of our School of Theology, another ministry long planned that has come to fruition this Fall.  We pray that through these classes, your Word would be opened up as never before to those attending, that their faith would be strengthened and enriched.  Strengthen Jeremy and Graham as they lead this ministry. 

As these two examples suggest, this time of year is not merely a time of endings, but of beginnings, as new seeds are sown to prepare a future harvest.  As students return to their studies, and some are beginning university or postgraduate studies for the first time, we pray that you would watch over them and be a light unto their path.  Keep the students of this church faithful in your ways, remembering that the study of your Word is of greater value than all other earthly knowledge.  Bring new students through the doors of this church, and help us to welcome them and provide a home and community for them here.  

Finally, Lord, we thank you for the wine that gladdens man’s heart and the bread that strengthens it, more than any earthly bread and wine—the Eucharistic feast we are about to share with you.  We thank you for taking the labor of human hands, the harvest of the old creation, and returning it to us as the firstfruits of the new creation, the eternal life of your Son.

In His all-powerful name we pray.  Amen.


A New Creation Prayer

The world is charged with the grandeur of God*

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; 

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil  

crushed.  


Lord, we thank you for the glory of springtime, when the golden gorse blossoms on the sides of Arthur’s Seat, when Princes Street Gardens are transformed into a sea of green, when each day is longer and brighter than the one before.  It is not hard, when the sun shines out across the spires of Edinburgh, to believe that we live in the dawn of new creation, when “old things have passed away, and all things have become new.”  For your glory refracted in every flower, every sunrise, in the waves of the Firth of Forth and the cliffs of Salisbury Crags, we thank you.  For every good and perfect gift, which we take for granted; for everything that is going right in the world, which we somehow think it tactless to dwell upon, we thank you.  Make us mindful of your presence and your grace at all times, even when they are not so obvious; but at least do not let us ever be so callous as to ignore your grandeur when it flames out so blindingly as it does each Easter season.

 

Why do men then now not reck his rod?  

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; 

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod


Lord, we confess that each one of us has turned inward upon ourselves.  How rarely we look outward to admire your handiwork, instead of gazing, ever unsatisfied, on our own; how rarely we look outward to see the faces and needs of others, the bearers of your glory, instead of brooding on our own problems and desires!  We bend everyone and everything into the instruments of our own projects; we manipulate our family and friends in a hundred subtle ways; we treat the world around us as so much raw material for us to consume to suit our pleasure, or remake or unmake to make our lives a fraction more convenient.  The evil that we see and deplore on a national and global scale—of bankers for whom the pursuit of money has become a self-justifying end that knows no end, of politicians for whom the truth and the common good are values so frequently traded for short-term gains that they have lost all meaning, of tyrants and war profiteers for whom violence is a way of life, of an earth straining under the weight of our demands, reeling from our daily depredations on soil, sea, and sky—is merely the selfishness of our own hearts writ large.  Lord, have mercy upon us. 

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 

Blessed are you, our God, Redeemer, for you have had mercy upon us; you have not left us trapped within ourselves, cut off from one another and from you.  For you, O God, were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself, and you have given us the Spirit of reconciliation.  For the reconciling work of Christ, we thank you, and pray that you bring it to completion in each one of our lives.  For the reconciling work of this church in the power of the Spirit, we thank you, and we pray that you would advance it through the preaching of the Word, through worship, through service, through fellowship, and in every new endeavour we undertake.  For the reconciling work that you have tasked each one of us with, we pray for your grace to carry it forward.  May the love of Christ compel us to turn out of ourselves and become part of the new creation of which you have invited us to be a part, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again.  Reconciled to you, may we be agents of your reconciling, recreating work to a world gone stale and dark—to the needy right in front of us, in our church and our streets, to friends or family estranged from us or from you, to nations and men in power deaf to your word and to the cry of the oppressed, and to the voiceless victims of our preoccupations, in the creation around us.  Make us ready for the dawn that awaits this groaning world, when your grandeur will flame out for all to see. 

 

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery hast established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.**

 

(Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church; 22 April 2012. Sermon passage: 2 Cor. 5:12-6:2)

* The poem used here is “The Grandeur of God,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

** For all you liturgical police out there—I recognize that this is the Collect for the 2nd Sunday in Easter, not the 3rd.  However, it fit the sermon passage so well that I decided to disregard calendrical propriety.