Not everyone delights in these summer months. While some adore this verdant season of productivity, others lament all of the work mowing, weeding, and picking that goes along with it. But like it or not, this time of growth and harvest is essential for all of life, from the smallest to the largest. So Joel prophesied a joy-filled restoration of Creation for a place decimated by a plague of locusts: Do not be afraid, O land; be glad and rejoice. Do not be afraid, you animals of the field, for the pastures are green. Be glad, O children for the Lord has given you rain. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
That takes us to the reality of complete ecological harmony our Lord created when making this world. We see it so clearly in those first two chapters of Genesis. But it's not just confined to that pre-sin status; it's still present even though increasingly hard to find in this fractured Creation. The Lord is praised in Psalm 104 for the intricately designed and lived goodness which links sky, sea, and land, mountains and valleys, water and vegetation, animals and people, day and night. O Lord, your works are plentiful! In wisdom you have made them all; the Earth is full of your creatures. At the very beginning when there was only dark water, formlessness, and void, the Spirit of God moved over it all, and light was spoken so that everything else could follow. Even in the aftermath of humankind's rebellion and the ensuing departure of breath and return to dust, the psalmist affirmed that God sends forth his Spirit and renews the face of the ground; he gives food to all creatures which look to him in hunger. Even after locusts wreak havoc on the rest of Creation, Joel promises that his people shall eat plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord; for the Lord himself declares that the time will come when I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
You know, there's something magnificently beautiful in the Creation account which often goes unnoticed. It's there lurking on the third day: Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit, in which is their seed (Genesis 1:11). While God created light on the first day, he didn't "house" it in sun, moon, and stars until the fourth day. So what does that mean? It means that the first light which made plants to flourish and continue to sprout up from the ground emanated directly from none other than God himself. (Just as when all comes to completion in the holy city, as recorded in Revelation 21:23, there will be no need for sun or moon because the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb.) It's no wonder that green is the color of Trinity and this long season past Pentecost! Wherever there is soil and light and water, there is growth.
Why so much vegetation? Because in addition to fulfilling its purpose in the exchange between water and soil, air and light, God explained its other purpose to his human creatures: I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food (Genesis 1:29-30). What does that mean? It means that our Lord created the land to bring forth a harvest of plenty for all!
We see that clear as ever in Paul's words to the Corinthians. Some are not to take in selfish excess what rightly belongs to all. Stingy planting brings a skimpy harvest, but plentiful planting brings an abundant one. Especially for those who have the mind of Christ, we're not to give what others need reluctantly or under force, but "cheerfully." Actually, the Greek word is hilaron, the source of our words hilarious and hilarity, telling us that God loves it when we give not begrudgingly but with "boisterous and generous gladness." Paul continued by telling them not to worry about having what they need, God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. Not to worry, Paul assured them, your generosity will enrich your life and increase "thanksgiving" (eucharistia, the source of the word Eucharist) to God. He reminded them that their "ministry" (leitourgia, the root of our word liturgy) is the "service" (diakonia, the origin of the words deacon and deaconess) of tending to the need of the saints, professing the Gospel of Christ and the generosity of koinonias ("communion" or "fellowship") with them. It's not simply a "worship service" but a shared life of worship and service!
It was no accident that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles as people from all over were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost, known variously in the Hebrew Scriptures as the Feast of First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, or the Feast of Harvest. That festival, known to most as the fiftieth day after Passover, was also an agricultural festival In addition to giving up the first of the grain crop in gratitude for the bounty, the Lord instructed the people not to harvest their fields to the very edge or "pick it clean", they were to leave some of the harvest for the poor and the sojourner in their midst (see Leviticus 23:13-22). On hearing the Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection that Pentecost ten days after his ascension, about three thousand people were baptized into him and received the Holy Spirit. It should come as little surprise that in addition to devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers [that] they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:42-47).
Do you think, perhaps, that Jesus' apostles remembered that Sabbath they walked with him through the grain-fields and incurred the Pharisees' wrath for plucking grains to eat? If they did, they more than likely remembered his reply about doing what is necessary so that the hungry are fed. They probably remembered the time as well that he looked at the fields, supposedly four months off from harvest, and said, Look, I tell, you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35). Oftentimes, we think of harvest in the late summer or early fall but forget that different crops are being harvested throughout the year. Harvest is almost always in season. In Psalm 104, we hear God praised for the three main crops of their agricultural year (spanning May through October) by means of the mainstays of life they bring forth: wine to gladden one's heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen one's heart.
May we go forth from here thankful for the life of salvation, the harvest of plenty we've been given through the grace of Jesus Christ! May we go forth as the people anointed by his Spirit to share the abundance of his mercy in word and work! And may we go forth boldly into the land of the living to do all things to the glory of God the Father! Amen.
Going Further: Make time in the busyness of summer to read and discuss Willa Cather's novel My Ãntonia, or if you want something shorter, Wendell Berry's poem "The Farm" from A Timbered Choir. If you'd rather watch a film and have a discussion, find The Trip to Bountiful. Regardless of what you pick, look for themes relating to growth and harvest, generosity and grace.