One of the great Thanksgiving hymns is Come, ye thankful people, come, or alternatively known by a phrase it uses several times, Harvest Home. The genius of this hymn’s lyrics is the multiple layers of meaning that are all appropriate for this time of year.
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.
The first stanza is almost exclusively focused on the “Thanksgiving Day” layer by calling us to give thanks for God’s providence in the crops that have been harvested by the end of the season. It is a good and godly reminder that all things come from Him, and that we ought to offer him hearty thanks for all the blessings of this life. The second stanza adds the second layer of meaning:
All the world is God’s own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to 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.
For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.
Several of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God make use of field imagery, likening the Gospel to seed and his people to crops, especially wheat (or “corn” in the generic sense of the word). The second and third stanzas weave together the ideas of several of those parables and point us to the spiritual harvest at the end of the age when Jesus returns with his angels to gather his people together and cast out the wicked. This connects well with the Gospel readings of late Trinitytide season and beginning of Advent, which also deal with the Kingdom of God, the last judgment, and the end of the age.
The hymn ends with a prayer:
Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring 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.
With the final harvest and judgment in mind, we pray that Jesus would complete his work in us and in the world. We pray for complete sanctification: freedom from sorrow and sin, and to be God’s “glorious harvest”. We pray for rest in our eternal heavenly home.
Where Thanksgiving Day is usually a backwards-looks day (giving thanks for blessings we have already received), this hymn unusually gives it a forward-looking dimension. Amen; come, Lord Jesus!