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Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, October 3, 2014

Harvest and Thanksgiving Pastoral Letter






Harvest & Thanksgiving Season

Dear AMC and JohnWesleyProject.com family,

At our first meeting this year, one of the Society Stewards brought up the need for us to have a Thanksgiving Service at AMC. I then mentioned that Biblically, Thanksgiving is always linked to Harvest celebrations and that our Methodist Harvest Festival has always been a Thanksgiving service which thanked God for the harvest, but also thanked God for “all good things around us, sent from Heaven above” (the words of our famous Thanksgiving/Harvest hymn). We then realised that AMC hasn't had a Harvest Festival for many years either and committed ourselves to planning a Thanksgiving/Harvest Festival this year. Later we realised that it is the 100th Anniversary of AMC's Sunday School, so that became an integral part of our celebration plans as well.

I am really very excited that we are having a Harvest/Thanksgiving service at AMC this year and I encourage us all to get involved, firstly at the Combined Worship Service at 9am on Sunday 26 October and then at the Family Fun and Braai which will follow the service. Please note that we are going to be ordering braai packs, so we need to know how many folk will attend the celebration and Fun day, but payment for the braai packs will be voluntary, there will be a box somewhere for folk to make donations to help cover our costs. The idea is that no one will be excluded from this day of Thanksgiving, which will include fun for everyone, games, waterslides etc.

You may not be aware that the 3 most important feasts in Judaism at the time of Jesus, were all festivities relating to thanksgiving at the various stages of harvesting.

  "All the men of your nation are to come to worship the LORD three times a year at the one place of worship: at Passover, Pentecost, and the Festival of Shelters." Deuteronomy 16:16
In this reading God gives to the people three festivals, three celebrations, three feasts that they are to celebrate every year in Jerusalem at the Temple. Now each of these festivals was an agricultural festival celebrating some stage in the harvest process, but, and far more importantly,each festival also had a religious significance as well.

Passover (April 14-22 2014): Passover (which for us now is the Easter celebration of the Lamb of God who was slain and raised to life in order to set us free from bondage to sin) was a reminder and celebration of the redemption from bondage in Egypt, but it also had an agricultural element. Passover ends with the Festival of First Fruits, where the people bought the first part of their harvest as an offering to God in anticipation of a good harvest to come. Jesus was raised from the dead on the day of this festival which is why Paul says in 1Corinthians15:20 "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep so that in Christ all will be made alive."

Pentecost (June 8, 2014): The next festival mentioned is the Harvest Festival or the Festival of Weeks, as it took place seven weeks after Passover and First Fruits. At the time of Jesus this festival was known as Pentecost which is a Greek word which means "seven weeks".The Jews celebrated the wheat harvest and that God had given them everything they had hoped for when they brought their first fruits. They also remembered on this day the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Pentecost became of course the time when God poured out His Spirit and put His Law into our hearts.

Tabernacles (October 10-15, 2014): The final festival mentioned is the Festival of Tabernacles, and is celebrated at the end of the harvest season, when the grapes and olives have been gathered in. Passover is in early spring, Pentecost is in late spring and the Festival of Shelters or Tabernacles or Booths is in autumn. The Jews at this time remember that during the 40 years in the wilderness they lived in shelters or tabernacles, hence its name. The prophet Zechariah says: "Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty,and to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles." (14:16) This feast seems to look forward to the time when the Kingdom of God will be established on earth in all its fullness at Christ's return. So while we as Christians can  look back and see how God has used two of these festivals for His redemptive purposes and they have in a sense been 'fulfilled', this last one, the feast of Tabernacles,is one which we still look forward to being fulfilled.


So, as you can see, the major festivals of Judaism which Jesus also remembered and celebrated, all included elements of Thanksgiving and Harvest, hence our Methodist practise of combining Thanksgiving and Harvest. Living in the city as we do here in Alberton it is very easy to forget what fields of wheat, maize, sunflower, sugar cane, etc., look like and just how dependant all of these are on the good gift of rain “from above”, so the service also includes an element of praying for rain where it is needed. Folk also bring “items of harvest” and we encourage you to be extra generous in your giving of non-perishables to our Amcare trolley on the 26th .


The main element, however, is Thanksgiving for what God has graciously given us...food, homes, health, friends, family, work, children, eyesight, taste, etc., etc., etc. Please fill in the slip below, or e-mail the office, with your specific thanksgiving, be it for a new addition to the family, or perhaps that you've managed to stay away from drugs for a week, month, year or years. I am hoping that a spirit of thanksgiving will overpower and consume us as we realise how very much our Lord blesses us day by day. Depending on the response, we will either project the thanksgivings during the service and probably derive our preaching from them, or we will print them up in booklet form for distribution. Please feel free to place anonymous thanksgivings if you wish.


On a more personal note, I will be on sabbatical for the next few weeks (my 3 month sabbatical is due, but I am not taking it all at once). I will be completing my Masters degree at Wits Medical School which I had to put on hold when I was asked to come to AMC a year earlier and then made senior minister earlier than I had expected as well. All my course work was completed in 2011 but I now have to write my thesis. I once again covet your prayers.


Much love,
             Cedric

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