On Harvest Festivals and Funerals

Many years ago, when I was working as a field archaeologist, I had a tea-break conversation with a colleague about Harvest Festivals. At the time I was about to leave work to start full-time training for the priesthood, while my colleague was an out-and-out non-believer. He let me know that there is no God, that church is a waste of time, and that I was most certainly throwing my life away.  However, he told me, coming from a farming family, he did feel that Harvest Festival was quite important, and he did like to attend church at that time.

When I asked him why he liked Harvest Festival, he explained that he felt that life is good, and that it seemed right to say thank-you once in a while. “Hold on a minute!” I said, “You don’t believe in God.Who are you saying thank-you to?  You can’t say thank-you unless you think there’s someone there to thank!”  He disagreed, and stuck to his line that it was important to say thank-you even if there was no-one there. We argued and laughed and agreed to disagree. But many years later his words have stayed with me.  Whatever our beliefs, we all have so much to be thankful for, and it does seem to be important that we get together to express it sometimes.

The last few months have sadly seen the loss of three well-known and well-loved personalities from our village. In leading their funerals I was struck by the way in which each one of these three lovely people had wrung the very best out of life, even in the midst of adversity. Each of them had their battles to fight with illness, but each in their different way was determined to enjoy what life had to offer, right to the very last.  Each one had touched the lives of those around them, and made them better.  Each one was cherished to the last by those who knew and loved them best.  Each funeral , though terribly sad, was full of thanksgiving, and – dare I even say – a certain sense ofdeeper joy.

Although our community is the poorer for the loss of these three great people, yet the manner of their passing gives us all cause for hope and for thanksgiving. I so hope that when my time comes, others will be able to say of me, as they have of these three villagers, that I lived life to the full, that I was surrounded and cherished to the end by people who loved me, and that I have made some kind of difference in the world.  I hope and pray that when I die the church will be full to bursting, that those who loved me will raise the roof with their hymns, that outside the sun will be shining and the birds will be singing, and that flowers will be everywhere.

Life is good, and all too short.  Let’s be determined to live every moment to the veryfullest, and let’s take one of those moments to give thanks – whatever our beliefs – for every wonderful minute of it.