Trinity 18 2017 | Harvest Sermon
I have not been in the Peloponnese since 1978. I sailed by ferry from Italy to Patras, and then on to Athens for three weeks study at the British School (of Archaology and Topography). From the School we visited Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia and Korinth. So after such a long time it is good to be back.
There is a legend, of course, about a monk called St. Regulus, who visited Patras and took possession of some of the bones of St. Andrew and transported them to the east coast of Scotland, giving the name to the town and later the University of St. Andrews. This year the university celebrates its 600th anniversary, and it was my first university. So some little connections!
Since moving to Athens back at the end of June, Lynne and I have enjoyed going to the Friday market in Kolonaki, the part of Athens where we live. The market has retained a feature that the mega-supermarket chains of the UK have all but obliterated. The food you buy carried a localized provenance. Our potatoes are clearly marked ‘Crete’ or wherever they are from; during August and September our tiny sweet white grapes are proudly marked Nemea, and the black grape sports the name Korinth – and yes, I’m aware that the English word ‘currant’ is a corruption of the name Korinth.
So there is a local pride in what is produced – the region, town, or village proclaims that it is making a contribution in a small way to the global consumption of food through Greece, and even in Kolonaki. Maybe where you are from has a regional food that is doing the same.
The strength of this labelling is that it makes a connection. It makes a connection between places and food, but also connects the humans who grow it with the land that produces it. There is a synthesis, or as you hear on the Athens Metro system, a ‘syndasi’ between man and creation, and if you take this to a deeper level between man, created in God’s image, creation, and the Almighty Creator.
Although the current Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is known as the ‘Green Patriarch’ – and his projects worldwide are impressive even though they are done almost with a sense of secrecy, I would say humility – it was Patriarch Demetrios who created in the Orthodox calendar the ‘Day of the Protection of the Environment’.
He begins his message with these words, ‘With these words the Liturgy captures the heart of the Orthodox vision and understanding of our relationship both to creation and the Creator. Creation – ourselves included, is of God. We do not own creation but are the free agents through whom creation is offered to the Creator’.
So in the Patriarch’s vision there is no line drawn between the creation, humanity, and the Creator we worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If this vision of our relationship with creation seems too big for us to cope with, let’s stop and think what it means. It means there is a sacred connection between us gathered here and the humble Cretan potato, or the sweet black grape from Corinth.
Scripture is full of songs of praise as the creation worships the handiwork of the Creator. Our Anglican liturgy too abounds in the language that connects us more widely and deeply to the creation.
‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer. Fruit of the field and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.’ ‘Blessed are you Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer. Fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become for us the cup of salvation.’
Our worship takes the very stuff of God’s creation, and through the association of bread and wine with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are fed and nourished both physically and spiritually. Physically because these tokens of creation represent the food that is toiled for and the vines that are tended; spiritually because they are tokens of us being connected and united into the Body of Christ, his church. We become members of the Body of Christ through the sacrament of baptism, whose outward sign of course is water, the very life-giving force for God’s creation to flourish.
The Patriarch goes further – he refers to humanity as the priests of creation; humanity, and in particular those of us who are of the Body of Christ offer the whole of creation back in praise to God. What a task to be entrusted with, but there is no one else but us; what a job, but we are divinely ordained to do it; who would take it on, that is for each of us to decide according to conscience, both individual and corporate.
Harvest, as we celebrate it in divine liturgy, is such a powerful sign to us, and with so many layers of theology, of prayer, of hard work, sweat and tears for a few, and of thanksgiving from us all.
So if all of this seems a bit much just keep it simple. You are related to the Cretan potato. Treat it with a holy love.