October Newsletter from Rev. Janet Calderley, one of the Ministers of our West Lancashire Partnership of the URC.
It’s October already – and by the time you read this most of our churches will have reopened for Sunday services and some will have celebrated their harvest festivals. In the UK the Harvest Festival is traditionally celebrated on the Sunday nearest the harvest moon. This is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox which is between 21st and 23rd September. This year it was on 22nd September and the nearest full moon is on 1st October, which is quite late this year. Most churches would therefore have their harvest on either the third or fourth Sunday of September.
Some of our churches however may not celebrate harvest until October and while this may seem very late for a harvest celebration it is not really all that strange as the time of harvest varies widely depending on what crops you are growing and where in the country you are. In Scotland and the north of England for example the same crops may be ready to harvest as much as six weeks later than in the south, and of course orchard fruits are much later than grain or soft fruit harvests, and certain vegetables and root crops later still, perhaps even months later. Sprouts for example are said to not be at their best until after the first frosts in December, just in time for Christmas, and I’ve even watched them harvesting leeks in January and February.
Around the world too, harvest is celebrated at different times. In the temperate regions of the southern hemisphere, for example, it is only the beginning of the growing season and crops will not be ready to harvest until next year when it is spring here and we are planting. Nearer to home however the feast of Sukkot will soon begin. Lasting from sunset on Friday October 2nd to sunset on Friday October 9th, Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish holiday that comes five days after Yom Kippur. Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the miraculous protection God provided for the children of Israel when they left Egypt.
The festival of Sukkot is one of the three great pilgrimage festivals (chaggim or regalim) of the Jewish year, the others being Passover and Pentecost (Pesach and Shavu’ot), and is named after the booths or huts (sukkot in Hebrew) in which Jews are supposed to live during this week-long celebration. The origins of Sukkot are found in an ancient autumnal harvest festival. Indeed it is often referred to as hag ha-asif, “The Harvest Festival.” Much of the imagery and ritual of the holiday revolves around rejoicing and thanking God for the completed harvest. The sukkah represent the huts that farmers would live in during the last hectic period of harvest before the coming of the winter rains. As is the case with other festivals whose origins may not have been Jewish, the Bible reinterpreted the festival to give it a specific Jewish meaning, and so it came to commemorate the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert after the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, with the huts representing the temporary shelters that the Israelites lived in during those 40 years of wandering after escaping from slavery in Egypt.
In many cultures harvest is also a time of completion or fulfilment, signalling the end of one cycle but also looking forward to the next. Before that though there is a period of rest and reflection. So as we reach the beginning of Autumn, and the end of British summer time, we can look back on what we have done and what we have achieved over the past year, and especially over the last six months as we have coped with the unusual and unprecedented circumstances arising from the Covid19 pandemic. So much has changed and we have all been challenged, as individuals, as each church, and as a Partnership of churches, but we have grown spiritually, and in love and compassion, and it is now time to ready ourselves to begin again as the new church year begins at Advent.
May God crown our year with blessings and refresh and renew us for whatever challenges the future holds,