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HYMN for PENTECOST 8 The Wheat and the Tares/ Come Ye, Thankful People Come

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Test: Henry Alford (1810-1871) Tune: George Elvey (1816-1893)

1 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 That our wants are all supplied; Come to God's own temple, come; Raise the song of harvest home. 2 We ourselves are 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 the full corn shall appear; Lord of harvest, grant that we Wholesome grain and pure may be. 3 For the Lord our God shall come, And shall take the harvest home; From His field shall purge away All that doth offend that day, Give his angels charge at last In the fire the tares to cast; But the fruitful ears to store In His garner evermore. 4 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.

REFLECTIONS

Some translations use the term darnel for weeds in this parable. Darnel looked like wheat, but it had properties that made it poisonous in large doses. You couldn’t really see what it was until it had fully grown. Then it could be harvested and separated from the good seed and burned in the fire, mostly to keep it out of the flour, given its poisonous properties.


We read the parable today with the tares as weeds, innocuous, but a nuisance. In Jesus' time, they were deadly. The idea of a wicked man coming and sowing a dangerous weed in one’s fields was terrifying when all you had for food was growing on your farm. But Jesus also knows about weeds. Trying to get rid of them while they are tiny sprouts and very like the good wheat will only bring disaster—the good wheat will be ruined as well. So wait until you can see the difference and then weed them out.


I remember when I was about ten years old, my great uncle paid me a penny a weed I could find in his wheat field in western Minnesota. I knew the fields around the farm well so he could let me spend the morning cleaning up his fields for a better harvest. The golden grain was waving in the blue August morning as I walked through it. The weeds were bright green, easy to spot against in the gold. I picked 50 and threw them away into the fires of the August sun.


One can apply this to both the harvest in the fall and the harvest of the latter days. Our hymn writer, Henry Alford, an English divine who knew the rituals of the English countryside well, starts with the annual harvest, but moves quickly to the spiritual meaning. The devil is always scheming and dangerous with his poison.


This is a topic when theologians talk congregations. The congregation of believers is divinely called into being by the Spirit, but invisible. No one can really judge who is a believer or not. That is for the Lord, thus the reluctance of an older generation of Lutheran pastors to pray for the dead to be accepted into heaven.That transaction was already over. Pastors also learned over time to be careful praising the deceased for being a fine Christian. Sometimes, there might be an abused child who knew the deceased to be a monster. That would be dangerous to the faith of the child. The service is for the mourners. For example, Johannes Brahms’ great Lutheran Requiem. Instead of the “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,” Brahms begins his with a prayer for the mourners in the words of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they that mourn.” In Lutheran tradition, funerals were designed to comfort the mourners.


This did not mean there was no judgment. We were, however, not the judge. That was for the Lord. Thus we commit the dead to the Lord who judges both the living and the dead as we say every Sunday.


The burning of the tares

This is serious stuff and pastors were taught in seminary to preach sermons that would preach for a verdict..Preaching was consequential—one professor at Luther Seminary was reputed to have told his classes that if they did not preach the Word of God on a Sunday and one of their hearers died during the week, the soul of that hearer could be on their record. Preaching had eternal consequences. It made many a seminary student, at the time, tremble in his boots.


Jesus isn’t fooling around here. There are two options with eternal consequences. Jesus explains the parable to his disciples: when the angels have gathered up all the causes of sin and cast them into the fire, the righteous will shine like the sun. Alford paints a beautiful picture of what happens to those who remained faithful: “Come with all thy angels, come/raise the song of harvest home.”


HYMN INFO

Alford wrote this hymn text and published it in 1844. He would edit it down to four stanzas some years later. Written for a harvest festival in his village, it also used the imagery of Jesus' parable of the wheat and tares to make the harvest a harbinger of the last judgment. Alford had an illustrious career as an English rector, serving as dean of Canterbury Cathedral and a scholar whose four volume commentary on the Greek New Testament was widely used in the English speaking world.

George Elvey

George Elvey sang in the Centerbury Cathedral choir when he was a boy. Educated at Oxford and the Royal Academy of Music, he began as organist while still a teenager at St. George Chapel where he worked until his retirement. He composed this tune for another text, but it soon became associated with Alford’s text and has been its most popular setting ever since.


LINKS The Temple Choir in Salt Lake City


Piano playing hymn with text


Chet Valley Churches





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