Here’s A Thought for Nov. 20
“O give thanks unto the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” Psalm 118:1
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving song? Do you have one? With the celebration of our national Thanksgiving Day this week, many people in churches, schools, and other events will sing the traditional harvest song, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” written by the Rev. Henry Alford (1810-1871). This hymn first appeared in Alford’s Psalms and Hymns, adapted to the Sundays and holy days throughout the year in 1844.
This song addresses the common theme of harvest festivals, called in England the Harvest Home, which is celebrated in English churches usually during the month of September. However, a Biblical Harvest Home celebration acknowledges the provision of God, as did the Pilgrims in 1621 in the Plymouth Colony and the children of Israel in their Feast of First Fruits in the spring on the first day after Passover at the time of the barley harvest.
The first stanza focuses our hearts and minds directly on the physical harvest, an image used throughout the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. We give thanks for the physical harvest as we give thanks for our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. As well as a physical harvest, the first stanza alludes to Jesus’ remark in all three of His Gospels accounts — the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, and the thankful people who are called to come are those who have already been sent by the Lord of the harvest, Jesus Christ.
The second stanza refers to Jesus’ parable concerning the wheat and the tares (weeds) from Matthew 13:24-30. The Rev. Alford interprets in this hymn to describe how our joys and sorrows grow together in life, and how God our Father does not eliminate sorrows until after the final harvest when God, “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelations 21:4)
The third and fourth stanzas move more directly to Christ’s Second Coming as our judge and king with the words, “For the Lord our God shall come” As people of faith, we are truly thankful for by God’s grace alone that “all is safely gathered in” prior to Christ’s second return Judgment Day.
This song reaffirms that through the gift of saving faith in Christ Jesus given to every man, woman, and child belong to the Family of God in these words, “We ourselves are God’s own field, Fruit unto his praise to yield; Wheat and tares together sown Unto joy or sorrow grown; First the blade and then the ear, Then the full corn shall appear; Grant, O harvest Lord, that we wholesome grain and pure may be.”
May your Thanksgiving be blessed, and as the church year transitions to the season of Advent, may we joyfully pray: “Even so, Lord, quickly come, Bring Thy final harvest home; Gather Thou Thy people in, Free from sorrow, free from sin, There, forever purified, In Thy presence to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, Raise the glorious harvest home. Amen”
Chopp is a chaplain emeritus, MDiv, BCC, from Marshall.