A time to give thanks
The Rectory, October 1998
In the middle of last month I was standing in the street opposite Marks and Spencers with a Christian Aid sash around me, tentatively shaking a tin at the passers by in the hope of luring coins, as if by magic, out of their pockets and purses. In fact we had a good day and collected over £500 to help Christian Aid in the task of rebuilding peoples lives after the destruction of war in Sierra Leone. Many thanks to those who did come and help. As I was standing there a very distraught woman, loaded with shopping, came up to me - not to put money in the tin but to ask if I had seen her little girl whom shed lost and had been looking for, obviously for quite an anxious time. But just as she approached me from one direction I noticed a very tearful little girl heading towards us from the opposite direction. It was indeed the missing girl. Before I had chance to say anything they were locked in each others arms, crying with relief and shock, and perhaps fear at what might have happened. They held on to each other for quite a few minutes not able to move away whilst I tried to mutter reassuring words about them being safe now and that everything was all right. Eventually, still clinging to each other and still a little tearful, they moved off towards the Broadmarsh - the mother turning to say "thank you" to me a couple of times. The thanks were not of course for me for I was only a witness, but we feel a need to say thank you to someone when things work out and I was handy.
At the time, collecting for Christian Aid, it brought alive for me the terror and the desperation of so many people who are separated by war or famine from their homes and communities, from those they love and trust, and are thrust into a stream of fleeing humanity which all too often fills our television screens. It also made me aware of how easily we take each other for granted and how rarely we stop and just give thanks for all that is good.
Harvest is a particular time of the year for giving thanks, for remembering the love, security and well being that we enjoy. Of course it is not the only time, and indeed we do so each Sunday when we gather for the Eucharist, for the word Eucharist is simply the Greek for thanksgiving. Week by week we bring the heart of life and of our lives to God, symbolised by the bread and wine. The bread symbolises the staple food we need to exist and the wine the richness and joy of sharing and celebration which is also at the heart of our human existence. By celebrating the Eucharist we are expressing our gratitude and in doing so recognising the holy relationship we have with everything that is, and with the God from whom all things flow. Such thanksgiving, I believe, frees us both from complacency and from possessiveness. Living without thanksgiving is dangerous because we can come to think that everything is our due or that we have a right to everything. It is an illusion and gives rise to the assumption that world exists to serve me and my needs - but when we give thanks for food, energy, warmth, homes and people, we acknowledge the value of each of these in their own right not just as they meet our needs. Thanksgiving is a way of honouring the creation, of each person and, of course, supremely of God.
The Harvest theme also reminds us that true thanksgiving bears fruit in a generosity of spirit. For if we give thanks for what we receive we enter into a freer relationship with the things that we think of as ours. So Harvest has properly become a time of sharing and giving. This year we are asked to help the orphanages of eastern Europe with such very simple staple but essential food such as flour, rice and sugar. The request is itself a humbling reminder of how much we take food stuffs like that for granted. But it is not just food we are helping to provide but support and prayer for those children who have, for whatever reason, become separated from their parents and sadly are unlikely to have a tearful reunion such as I witnessed in front of M&S. Jesus himself was as a child among those who were lost, and his frantic parents found him at last safe in the Temple. When we feed the lost we feed Christ also.