‘Harvest Home’ is more than a beautiful hymn
While I have not been a fervent churchgoer, there is one beautiful, somber, seasonal hymn that has haunted my memory for many years. I remember singing it from an open hymnal many years ago when I accompanied my father to church. Unable to recall its proper name, I decided to find a hymnal on a recent Sunday morning, so I walked the couple of blocks to St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, which I attended in my youth.
I slid into a back pew, as the services were in progress. I hadn't been inside for almost 60 years. A very nice gentleman next to me handed me a program of what was going on, pointing to the hymn being sung. I pretended to go along for a moment while looking through the hymnal for my Thanksgiving hymn. I set down a notebook of my husband's that I had meant to use to transcribe the words.
A woman in front of me pointed to the Sunday listings with a friendly nod. Growing weary of pretending to sing, I decided to take the hymnal home with me to find the special hymn later. I didn't want to be stopped at the church door for fast-fingering a hymnal! I was going to return it right away anyhow if the doors were still open. The door mat said, "All welcome – no exceptions."
When I got home, Jeff asked, "Where is my notebook?" Oh no, I had left it there on the back pew! That's what I get for taking a hymnal. Busted! Anyway, I couldn't find the hymn and returned to the church, in my car this time for a speedy getaway. Services had just concluded. The pew was empty, no notebook. "Spectre at the Feast" was I.
The helpful man I had sat next to came toward me down the aisle. "Did you leave your notebook?" he asked. I told him of my dilemma. "The organist will know," he said. He remembered the song from school. We sang the first stanza together, savoring its words. A photographer was standing behind a tripod taking a photo of the choir. Like the bull in the china closet that I am, I elbowed in, inquiring, "Do you know this hymn?"
The vicar turned around and looked at me disapprovingly, which I deserved. I ran out feeling like Larry David in one of his skits. I hurried across the street to Goshen United Methodist Church. The Methodists were accommodating and lent me their hymnal. When I returned to my car, the nice man from St. John's approached me. "It's called ‘Harvest Home,’" he said.
Back home, I perused the Methodist hymnal. It was surprisingly fascinating, reading the poetry of the hymns, many interesting ones, even some in Spanish and an African one, “Kumbia.” Some were the foundation for popular songs like "Morning Has Broken," others, reminders of movable feasts and holiday favorites.
Finally, Jeff looked up "Harvest Home" on the internet. Its real title is "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come." No wonder I couldn't find it. Although this is not the spirituality section of the paper, I think it is beautiful in the word pictures it creates of harvest time in the minds' eye, so I would like to share it with you here.
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied.
Come to God's own temple, come; raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God's own field, fruit as praise to God we yield.
Wheat and tares together sown are to joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear.
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home.
From the field shall in that day all offenses purge away.
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.
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. - by Henry Alford, 1844; and George J. Elvey, 1858.
It really seems to say something about thanksgiving; it conjures a feeling of harvest time and the beautiful fields of corn, and it offers a life lesson. Thanksgiving has always seemed to me to be a time of learning about others, maybe from another time and culture, not only about families getting together with people you already know. Wasn't that the story of the first Thanksgiving?