Harvest Festival at St Chrysostom’s Church usually begins with the traditional Harvest hymn Come, ye thankful people, come. At Harvest we are thankful for the fruits of the earth, and for those who work to produce the fruit, and this hymn encourages us all to ‘raise the song’ of thanksgiving.
Henry Alford, the hymn’s author, was born to a family which for five successive generations had given clergy to the Church of England. His father was a priest in Wiltshire. Henry studied at Cambridge and in 1835 became Vicar of the rural parish of Wymeswold in Leicestershire. In that rural setting in 1844 he published his Psalms and Hymns in which comes the hymn After Harvest beginning Come, ye thankful people, come.
The hymn was taken and used as a harvest hymn, though hymn book editors altered the words , against the author’s wishes. Alford became Dean of Canterbury in 1857 and in 1865 published a revised version of After Harvest in his Poetical Works. It is this version, (in Alford’s unaltered words) found in the New English Hymnal, which we sing at St Chrysostom’s.
Alford’s hymn encourages us to bring the celebration into Church. ‘Come to God’s own temple come, Raise the song of harvest home.’ At the same time, the parish priest invites his people to look to the Bible in their thanksgiving. The parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13. 24-30) is central to the hymn – ‘Wheat and tares together sown, Unto joy or sorrow grown.’ And also Alford points us to the parable of the sower ‘First the blade, and then the ear, Then the full corn shall appear’ quotes Mark 4.28.
All through the hymn Alford invites us to compare the Harvest to our lives. It is, in a sense, a parable. We are seeds, which grow, we are gathered in by God, we pray that we may abide in God’s harvest. And our hope is that we will sing at the final times, ‘Raise the glorious harvest home!‘