Rev Dr Timothy Bradshaw, Oxford University theology department

WE ARE now into the wonderful ‘season of mist and mellow fruitfulness’, autumnal light and trees turning all manner of yellows, browns and reds.

And for churchgoers this is when harvest becomes a major theme of thanks and praise to the Lord of all creation.

While our cooking now is often out of packets and tins, we still handle apples and fruits grown in the UK and put on show at harvest thanksgiving services.

This is in the best possible sense a ‘magical’ time when the fruits of creation are focuses of thanks and joy, ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love’ – a wonderfully simple and yet profound harvest hymn.

The sheafs of wheat we see in many country churches now take us back directly to the source of wheat, barley and bread, and – dare we say – beer and wine ‘to gladden the heart of man’ as the psalmist says.

Children are always very engaged by harvest services and the very familiar hymns, especially ‘All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small’, still sung in school assemblies even in our secular age.

Harvest points us to God through the wonderful generosity of the growth of crops and trees pouring forth food for us to eat, it is almost as if the fruit of the fields and trees are ‘sacraments’ of a good creator who loves us and sustains us.

Jesus often uses this them in his teachings in the Gospels: the mysterious way that seeds lie in the earth and die before rising and growing; the seeds scattered on the four different surfaces; his advice to trust in God the creator to provide for us, as he does the birds of the air and flowers of the field.

Jesus was of peasant culture and was utterly familiar with the seasons and patterns of growing, it was natural for him to see all this pointing to God the maker and sustainer of all things.

In his great and simple prayer beginning ‘Our Father’ Jesus teaches us to ask for ‘our daily bread’, to continually see our food as from the hand of a loving God who cares about us and is no distant, remote unapproachable deity.

As modern people we get our bread from our local supermarket in a plastic wrapper, many stages on from the corn and wheat harvested by the farmers, and yet we really should not take this for granted, it is still a gift to us even when we have the income to pay for it easily – that income itself is a gift.

That sense of all things coming to us from a generous hidden hand is the heart of what we understand by God the creator: we live our lives trusting in that goodness ‘deep down things’, to quote Hopkins, a goodness and kindness we specially focus on at harvest festival services.

We also give thanks for the pattern of the seasons, seedtime and harvest, the regularity of these making possible agriculture and fruiting.

Creation involves a certain stability and points to the faithfulness of God in sustaining the world.

Here we can also ponder the gift of science and our reasoning powers which investigate the cosmos, its beauty and structures, the wonder of mathematical patterns and our capacity to resonate with these.

Science can warn us of abuse of creation, as it does regarding global warming.

So we rejoice with a Sabbath ‘Amen’ for the great loving giver and all his gifts around us!