This weekend had all the elements of a traditional Harvest Festival at church. The autumnal colours of the flowers; an altar groaning under the weight of tins and fresh produce brought as gifts for the local foodbank; children singing upbeat harvest songs with prayers and blessings for the abundance of God’s grace within his creation. Our sung Evensong lectionary, however, reminded us of a different harvest to come.
May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Our passage from Revelation this evening, at first glance or first listening, fits beautifully with the theme of our Harvest Festival today, an almost idyllic image of the harvest being gathered in for all is ripe and ready, at its peak of maturity. But the passage itself is actually plucked from a whole series of chapters and verses describing the Battle of Armageddon… So this is not some John Constable ‘hay wain’ moment but an eschatological vision given to John on the island of Patmos
Here we have two distinct and opposite images; a reaping of the grain and a gathering of the grapes. The first is a positive one of Jesus as the Son of Man, as he foretold his disciples when they asked him in Matthew’s gospel about the signs of the end of the age, sitting on a cloud, surrounded by angels, coming to gather the elect. Those humans who through God’s grace, have been chosen because of their faithfulness, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a gathering of all who responded on earth to the Messianic message.
The second one a negative image of the judgement of the unrepentant nations and people. These grapes were not to become a wine of celebration, but to be gathered and then thrown into God’s winepress of wrath, a pressing that will produce rivers of blood ‘as high as a horse’s bridle for a distance of about 200 miles’, which was roughly the length of Palestine from north to south.
Here is Jesus in all his power and glory, revealing absolute dominion over all of the nations, represented by his golden crown, who with one swing of his sickle, a single action, ‘reaps the earth’ and gathers the people of God instantly into the Kingdom. This is an action that suggests there is no judgement involved. The people who are part of this special harvest are those who have lived in the light of God’s grace…For all the others, as I mentioned in the second image, there is the gathering and then the pressing – a time of judgment and divine retribution.
Thus the response to the proclamations of the angels is left open to two final possibilities; salvation or judgement.
Better then to hope to be in the elect than in those who have ‘the mark of the beast on their foreheads’ (Rev 13:16). The verses before this reading, vv1-5, speak of the Lamb and the 144,000, who will be saved. However, we don’t need to take this number literally otherwise we’re going to be very few in number, but numerology in the bible was important, and this number is based on twelves. The twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles of Christ, now multiplied together a 1,000 times, symbolising the complete gathering of the faithful, from Israel and the Church, the ‘redeemed’.
Everyone, whom Christ has rescued from the power of sin and death by giving his life on the cross and who have committed themselves totally to him, living lives marked by self-control, honesty and a clear conscience.
For Paul, writing to the Christians in Philippi, a church he founded himself and who have always given him loving and generous support, he urges them to be united in their faith and to see Christ as the supreme goal of their life and mission. He writes this letter from prison, but his heart is free and full of joy, and this joy now breaks out.
He urges the Philippians (and indirectly all of us) to rejoice in the Lord, a joy that doesn’t depend on life always being good or feelings of happiness, but a much deeper satisfaction that comes from belonging to Christ and being united in his love and purpose. It is more fitting to be gentle, yet confident and prayerful as we await his coming. Anxiety must be turned into prayer; prayers of thanksgiving that God will return to us in the form of an amazing peace that comes when the love of Christ conquers and embraces all.
We are to fill our minds with good and beautiful ideals, that purify our imaginations and inspire our actions, so that we can live out the gospel in practical ways.
Paul speaks without arrogance, but as a true teacher – he practices what he preaches. If we then, follow his example, and have a perfect trust in God we can be assured that we too will find ourselves, not through our actions but through God’s grace, safely gathered, as part of the harvest, in heaven’s great garner store. Amen