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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon

31st July 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity IX

'The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.' Mt. 13.31.

At this time of year if you go for a drive in the countryside the chances are that you'll get stuck behind a combine harvester on its way to harvest the wheat. Harvest time comes during summer, yet the Church celebrates it in mid autumn when all is long safely gathered in. It was not always so as choirboys might once have discovered.

Generations of choirboys faced the problem of how to amuse themselves during the duller parts of the service when they were not required to sing especially the sermon. A discreet comic could be read, a sweet could be sucked or the more obscure parts of the prayer book could be searched. Forms of prayer to be used at sea, the table of kindred and affinity, tables to calculate the date of Easter for the next two centuries or so; you will know the kind of thing. Nowadays we have neither Prayer Book nor Choirboys so no doubt the custom has ceased.

Searching through their prayer books they would have found 1st August described as 'Lammas'. The word is an Anglo Saxon corruption of Loaf Mass. On the 1st August bread made from the first of the newly harvested wheat was used for the sacramental bread in the Eucharist. (I wonder if Lammas Road in Watford has anything to do with this custom?) The celebration of Loaf mass was discontinued at the reformation. Cranmer only kept the name as a reference point in his calendar. There was to be no Liturgical observance of Harvest Festival until its Victorian revival. We can use Lammastide to remind ourselves of several important aspects of our faith.

  1. The interconnectedness of faith and every day life. When Jesus taught about the kingdom he did so with reference to every day things familiar to his agrarian hearers; a mustard seed, yeast, a field, pearls, a net and to every day activities; sowing, baking, trading, fishing. We find such things in today's Gospel. When our Mediaeval forbears offered bread made from the first harvest at the mass where it became the body of Christ they were expressing that connectedness. We have largely lost that sense, although it is still there in the prayers we use at the offertory. Each Sunday we say, 'Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: through your goodness we have this bread to set before you, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.' The challenge for us is to reflect on those connections and the express them in contemporary terms.
  2. Thankfulness. Because we have plenty we forget to be thankful. We take things for granted. I remember being struck by the words of the grace being said at a feeding centre in Southern Africa that featured in a news item about famine in Africa. Thankfulness for a little at a time of want, faith in adversity. Eucharist means thanksgiving. As we receive the sacramental bread, the body of Christ, linked to human endeavour, so we are thankful for all that God gives us and mindful of those in need.
  3. The offering of the first fruits. At Lammastide the first fruits of the harvest were offered to God in recognition of his gift, his grace, as a response to his provision. 'All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.' Stewardship is something that we often try to duck but in it lays the renewal of the church. Stewardship based on the faith that the seed will grow, that the dough will rise, that the field contains buried treasure, that the one pearl is worth all, will by God's grace yield a rich harvest. Easy to say, hard to accept, undoubtedly the teaching of Jesus.

So there you have it; three Lammastide messages, that our faith is intimately connected with everyday life, that we should be thankful in all things and that the first claim on all that we have is God's because he is the provider of all things.


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Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at Last updated 01/08/2005 17:30 Author: David Shepherd