How quickly the time passes, especially it seems so as one gets older. We are, nevertheless, continually cheered by the seasons and festivals that we remember so fondly from our past. Now, once again, we enjoy the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; conspiring with him how to load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run. (from ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats). And, so, we at St Mary’s look forward to our Harvest Festival as autumn falls, with all the enjoyment of the preparation of the chapel, the familiar scriptures, the hymns we love, and the evocative scents of flowers, fruit and polish!
I love to remember that wonderful and very telling poem by John Betjeman about harvest time, which he called "The Diary of the Church Mouse". His central character, the mouse, complains that at the only time of the year when the church is full of tasty delights, it is invaded by cheeky harvest mice from the fields, who devour what he regards as rightly his:
"Within the human world I know
Such goings on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house.
But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't see at all
Except at Harvest Festival."
This is for me a lovely little piece of gentle mockery, not of others of whom we might feel a bit superior who, we determine, use the church only when it suits them, but who we, perhaps, judge too quickly. Betjeman uses these appealing animals to make his point, and it’s not hard to understand why this has become one of Betjeman’s most loved poems, appealing so widely, even to those who miss the satire.
This is not simply a ‘parable’ by John Betjeman about church attendance. After all, each of us falls short in our duty or devotion at least sometimes! We know in our deepest selves, we too regularly promise more than we deliver, and also that we should judge not lest we be judged (as in Mark 7, 1). Therefore, "Within the human world I know, such goings on could not be so, for human beings only do, what their religion tells them to”, is often not true!
We are gently reminded of Jesus’ character and so much of his teaching and illustrative story telling. These ring out in defiance of despair and loss of faith of others and ourselves. "Some seed fell on rich soil and the harvest was a hundred fold" (Luke 8, 8), and, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink … … your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things … … but strive for the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6, 25 & 6, 32-33). Ultimately it is God's world and, despite our best or worst endeavours, his kingdom will prevail.
Let us all be encouraged with joy to open our hearts, our love and our beautiful church, in welcome to everyone, without any reservation whatsoever.
Love, Fr. Brian
P.S. I love this little quotation, too. I believe it is also from John Betjeman. “I don’t think I’m any good. If I thought I was any good, I wouldn’t be.”