In Genesis 2:15, we read: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”. Of course, the ‘man’ referred to here is Adam and, whether you take Genesis literally or not, this shows us that humanity has cultivated and harvested food from an incredibly early time. The beginnings of farming stretch back to when hunting and gathering food were no longer adequate ways of feeding an increasing population.
It is natural for us therefore to praise God for His Creation; not just of the land itself, but also for the crops which grow there. For this reason, in rural areas, there is a tradition of holding special services in order to do just this and also to ask for God’s blessings for a good harvest. Most of us are familiar with Harvest Festival, where we thank God for the food that we have and remember those who do not, but there are also other ‘Country Services’, at other times of the year, that have been held for centuries and are still being held in modern times:
Traditionally held on the 1st Sunday of Epiphany since Victorian times, Plough Sunday can trace its roots even further back to ‘Plough Monday’ when it marked the first working day after Christmas. This is a time to ask God to bless perhaps the most important tool used in farming: The plough. His blessings are also asked for the seeds that will grow into crops to be harvested, and for the labour that farmers will provide in order to produce our food.
Nowadays the Rogation service is held on the 6th Sunday of Easter, but the ‘Rogation Days’ used to be the three weekdays before Ascension Day.
Rogation Day services are similar to the tradition of ‘beating the bounds’ of a parish; those celebrating this service move in procession from the church to a field, then to a river or source of water, then on to a house and finally back to the church. Parts of the service are held at each location, asking God for his blessings on each (in fact the rather strange name ‘Rogation’ comes from the Latin word ‘rogare’, which means ‘to ask’). If no outside locations are available, the congregation processes around the church ‘visiting’ each location symbolically.
Lammas is an ancient festival (its name coming from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Hlafmaesse’ and meaning ‘Loaf-mass’) which expresses thanksgiving for the first wheat harvest of the year. Held on the 1st August, or the nearest Sunday, a loaf baked from the ‘first fruits’ of the harvest is presented before God during the service and is often used during the celebration of the Eucharist (or Communion) on that day.
Perhaps more familiar to us as ‘Harvest Festival’, this is a service of thanksgiving to God for the harvesting of food in general. An extension of the Lammastide festival, this service was officially endorsed by the Church of England as recently as 1862 and is a Christian response to the older, more secular tradition of ‘harvest home’. Not only do we give thanks to God for the harvest during this time, we also often collect food to be distributed to those in need, such as the poor or the elderly.
We can see here a pattern of worship and thanksgiving that marks, not the Liturgical year (as, for example Easter or Christmas), but the natural cycle of the Seasons and its consequent cycle of preparing the land, sowing seed and harvesting crops upon which we all depend for the basic necessities of life.