Worship at the Abbey

Address given at a Service to Celebrate the Harvest for British Food Fortnight

16 October 2013 at 12:00 pm

The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Richard Chartres KCVO, Bishop of London 

There were “greens, gherkins, goats and guinea pigs galore” at just one of the harvest celebrations which you have organised. In this great Abbey Church we are surrounded by the fruits of the earth and the work of your hands. I had hoped to stun you all by producing the fruit of my own efforts but we live in a flat in the City of London where the sun struggles to reach the grow-bags in our cobbled yard.

There’s nothing like trying to do it yourself to increase our respect and our thanks for all those who work so hard to grow and prepare our food. This is the climax of British Food Fortnight and we salute the farmers and the producers in this celebration of the harvest.

We also give thanks for the good earth and the pasture which makes the harvest possible. Our lives depend on the fruitfulness of the earth and the seas. The human economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the natural environment. I hope and pray that you will grow to be strong and resolute in your care for the earth and the seas, defending them against all that poisons and degrades our beautiful home on this planet. Some of the most effective and eloquent environmental campaigners I have ever met are in Primary Schools.

You have brought home the fruits of the harvest to this royal church and in the presence of God the Creator of Life you have given thanks. When you give thanks it is not just being polite or a way of paying a debt; the prayer of thanksgiving changes things and transforms life.

There are two ways of taking life – you can take it for granted or like Jesus Christ at supper with his friends you can take the bread of life with thanksgiving.

Jayda and Daniel prayed “Make us always thankful and give us generous hearts”. It would be a good thing if we all paused before eating to give thanks. Try it at home if you do not do it already. But why stop there? The thankful heart grows as we thank God for breath, life, our friends, for the gifts and talents that each one of us has been given; thanking God in the silence of our hearts every day in simple arrow prayers.

When you hold things up to God the Creator then you can see them as they really are as gifts of the God who so loved the world that he was generous. Unblessed bread goes stale; unblessed life grows tedious but if you give thanks then you receive the gifts of the good earth back charged with a new glory. When you eat with thanksgiving you are nourishing your body and your soul.

A great German thinker once said “a human being is what he eats”. It is better in German – der Mensch ist was er isst. He said that to ridicule the idea of humans as spiritual beings but it is exactly what the Bible says - human beings are what they eat and how they eat. Jesus Christ himself said “I am the bread of life” When you eat with thanksgiving you reveal the world as gift and grow in love for the earth.

But if we are surrounded by harvest gifts and not possessions, fruits of our work but also of the good earth then as Jayda and Daniel’s prayer said it leads on to “generous hearts to share what we have with those who have little”. I am so glad that the collection at this service is going to “Plant for Peace” which helps communities in Afghanistan to increase the production of food and to restore degraded soils.

All the experts say that we have enough food in this world to feed everyone but as a result of war and greed people go hungry every day. As we celebrate our harvest we also remember people in parts of the world where there is drought and hardship, people who do not want hand-outs so much as help to bring in a harvest of their own.

This is a day to sing a hymn to food, glorious food and to lift our harvest mugs full of scrumpy or delicious Ribena to salute the British farmer and to thank God in particular for these harvest boxes for your work and the fruit of the good earth.