Perhaps my favorite Thanksgiving hymn is Come, ye thankful people, come, also known in other books as Harvest Home. Typically when dealing with hymns and songs on this blog, I stay away from the most popular entries, since people are more likely to have learned something about them already. But this one… well, let’s just go for it and we’ll see what happens.
This is a great Thanksgiving Hymn, picking up immediately on one of the key origins for this holiday: the end of the harvest season. Hence the first stanza:
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home;
All is safely gathered in
‘Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest-home.
Pretty straight forward, yes? God is the creator and supplier of all things, that time of year draws to its close, so let’s go worship and thank him. Simple. Almost too simple. But the second stanza is where things start to transform:
All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then then full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.
Suddenly, while keeping the same imagery, the theological meaning has completely changed! Now the field is God’s creation, the purpose of creation is praise him, wheat and tares grow together in the church, and we are called (planted) to bear the fruit of praise and thanksgiving. Several parables and teachings of Jesus can be seen here, both distinctly and discreetly, and whether you follow either the 2019 prayer book or the traditional prayer book Sunday lectionary, themes like these have become prominent in recent weeks.
But we’re not done yet; stanza 3 takes it to another level:
For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take his harvest home,
From his field shall in that day
All offences purge away,
Give his angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store
In his garner evermore.
Woah. The return of Christ! Judgement day! The angelic harvest of the church… again the same parables alluded to, but now with a distinctly Advent theme. This song can singlehandedly transition the worshiper from late Trinity to Advent! The 4th and final stanza turns this into a prayer:
Even so, Lord, quickly come
To thy final harvest-home;
Gather thou thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In thy presence to abide;
Come with all thine angels, come;
Raise the glorious harvest-home. Amen.
“Come, Lord Jesus” is the prayer at the end of the book of Revelation, and a key theme of the season of Advent (indeed, it is the Acclamation at the beginning of the modern Communion liturgy.)
It helps a great deal that Thanksgiving Day normally lands three days before the beginning of Advent, like it does this year. Occasionally Thanksgiving is early enough that there’s still one Sunday left before Advent, but however it works in a given year, this hymn is a fantastic end-of-the-year song to sing. There are a handful of Thanksgiving songs that I really like, and even more available in most hymnals, so I kind of feel bad appointing it every year at the expense of the others… but you know what? I think this one’s worth it.