A Sermon delivered by the Rev. Ernest Penn
on 2 October 1949 at
the Unitarian Church, Poole

Harvest Festival

At this time we express our gratitude to God for the blessings of harvest: for food, for the miracle of growth, for life and all its blessings.

The harvest festival is probably the oldest [and warmest?] - for ever since man became aware of his environment, from the earliest times we know, all peoples and all nations in every part of the world have held some kind of harvest festival, and in various ways have expressed their thanks to God, who, in the harvest, has given them food for another year. Even in the most ancient religious systems harvest time was observed as a great festival of thanksgiving. In India, China, Africa it was a period of devout thanksgiving to Earth or Harvest Gods for the gift of food.

The ancient Greeks gave thanks to Ceres, the Goddess of all growing plants. The Romans thanked Pomona, Goddess of fruits. The ancient Druids and Celts of England and Ireland called the time of harvest Samain and sacrificed a horse to the sun in thanksgiving. But with the gratitude of these ancient folk a large element of fear was mingled. They were afraid that if the Gods and Goddesses did not consider that they had been sufficiently thanked for their services in ripening the corn and fruits, they would be offended by the human race and there would be no harvest the following year; for "primitive man" no harvest meant death by starvation hence the strange practices and horrible sacrifices of animals and humans to harvest Gods and Goddesses. To the early races of the world men would best and most acceptably show their gratitude to the heavenly powers by killing or burning a part of their livelihood - and offering it as a sacrifice; corns, fruit, animals and even human beings were offered. But as man developed, his ideas and practices became more refined.

The Hebrew idea of a just and merciful God delivered the world from those terrible superstitions. Noah's God promised, "While earth remaineth seed-time and harvest shall not cease." Men no longer feared failure in the crops through neglect of the proper ceremonies, but they continued to thank God yearly for the miracle of growth he had once again brought about. They thanked him in the home and temple by prayers and praise and devotional ceremony, for example Feast of Weeks [Shavuot, concluding festival of the grain harvest at the giving of the Torah] and the Feast of Tabernacles [Sukkoth].

The early Christians kept up the Jewish festivals. When they began the conversion of heathen peoples, they found everywhere harvest celebrations. They encouraged them and did not make many changes in their traditional ceremony beyond translating the whole to the praise of the God of Love.

Today in our own way we give our thanks to God for all the blessings of our life. In our harvest festival we are reminded of God's gift to us, of his love speaking to us amid the beauty of nature and through his miracle of life and growth. We may spend hours of mystic and reverential gladness before the face of nature; we are moved by the joy of harvest - the beauty and joy of harvest is raised to new heights to the man who has awakened to realise that in and through it God is showing himself to mankind.

The beauty and joy of harvest is raised to new heights to the man who has awareness to realise, that in and through it God is showing himself to mankind, that in and through it God is working with men, as a father with his children.

We think also of the blessings of home, friends, health and strength, our church and its fellowship, music, heritage of freedom, and all the influences in our life. As we reflect upon such blessings we are impelled to a silence which is more eloquent in gratitude than any sounds or words. No metaphysician or philosopher ever felt the deficiency of language so much as the grateful. We all have experienced something of this silent gratitude, perhaps [at] times when everyone has seemed especially kind to us and we have felt in a warmth of spiritual kinship; or when at some difficult period in our life some one has been our help and comfort, or perhaps we have even stood alone and been conscious of the spirit within upholding us. At such times, only silence could express our deep feelings of gratitude.

Before the face of this who givest all, we can only bow in wonder, reverence and thanksgiving. But our own Harvest Thanksgiving will be incomplete and nothing more than a sham if it does not issue in an ever increasing desire to serve. Our Thanksgiving must follow on to a personal revival and rededication to the service of God and man.

The late Rev. Ernest Penn


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful