First fruits of harvest

Kenneth Patterson
Kenneth Patterson

Every fortnight people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life. They hope that you will be encouraged by it.

As the year moves on, and we look ahead to autumn, the most pressing work to come is the harvest.

Whether it is the grain harvest, or apple harvest (especially in Armagh), or the harvest of other fruits and vegetables, there will be much work to be done.

Of course the grain harvest in particular is now more spread out than it used to be in Northern Ireland. In some parts you’ll see a variety of winter crops, which ripen earlier than the traditional September/October harvest time, being gathered in about now.

I remember the 1960’s when combines were just appearing - and binders were still commonly in use – and how annoying it was to be back to school on a lovely September harvest day, knowing that the binder was hard at work in the corn fields and I was inside! I would just love to have been there sitting on it, rather than learning in the classroom.

Now, in the land of the Bible, the agricultural year was very different from ours. Seedtime was around October/November after the ‘early rains’ had come and softened the ground (there is virtually no rain in Israel from April until October). The barley, or wheat, then grew on over the winter months, helped on by the ‘latter rains’, until harvest in April/May.

And when an Israelite farmer began his grain harvest he was instructed to bring the ‘firstfruits’ of his harvest as an offering to God. ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you...you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest’ (Leviticus 13:10). This was a way of giving thanks to God who had provided the harvest (and who still provides us with all we need today) but it also recognised that, in the goodness of God, this sheaf would be the first of many to follow.

In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul speaks at length about the great Christian hope of the resurrection. This is the truth that for those trusting only in Christ for salvation - death is not the end of our existence. There will be a resurrection when Jesus returns at the end of time to be the judge of all people. In verse 20 Paul describes Jesus as ‘the ‘firstfruits’ of those who have fallen sleep’.

The word ‘sleep’ here describes death. When we lie down at night to sleep we do so in the expectation that we will wake again in the morning. So, when the Christian dies, or ‘falls asleep in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:18), he or she does so in the expectation of a wonderful resurrection to eternal life in Heaven. And Jesus is the ‘firstfruits’ of that resurrection, because, just as he died and rose again on the third day, so all his people who die will one day rise to be with him.

As we look at our world today with all its problems, hope is not something which is very common. In fact, even in our own land of plenty, many seem to be anxious, depressed, and even despairing with little or no hope for the future.

But for those who know Jesus as Saviour, we have the wonderful prospect before us that after this present life is over, we will have eternal life through him, who is our ‘firstfruits’. Do you?

Kenneth is pictured sitting on the McCormick Binder that he used in the 1960s. He was able to buy and restore it 10 years ago.

A former GP, he was ordained for the ministry in 1990. He retired in 2013 after 19 years as Minister of Castledawson and Curran Presbyterian churches in South Derry. Before becoming a minister he worked on farms during his student days. As a hobby he now enjoys restoring vintage farm machinery.

If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev. Kenny Hanna at khanna@presbyterianireland.org or call him on 028 9753 1234.