For Harvest Festival, the Sunday School learned about the figure of "John Barleycorn," a Medieval personification of the wheat crop who was often celebrated in songs and rituals. For more about John Barleycorn, click here, and to hear the song we used, click here.
Then we decamped to the kitchen to make fruit smoothies (crushing and breaking the fruit ourselves), spiced apple juice (again, cutting up various pieces of fruit), and bruschetta (note the inclusion of BREAD in this activity). We'll be re-enacting the violence of the John Barleycorn story, and, just as in John Barleycorn, enjoying the life-giving results of the food's sacrifice for us.
Note that BREAD and FRUIT JUICE are both featured. So that when we shared the food we'd made at the end of the lesson, we found ourselves naturally re-enacting the Eucharist - first we blessed the food, then passed around the bread, and then passed around the wine.
So here are the connections I hope the kids were starting to make, subtly, and without my spelling it out for them - they need to come to this on their own:
1. John Barleycorn = sacrificial death. The food we eat dies to give us life. Our life - in the most physical, basic, non-spiritual way - is given through the sacrificial death of others. The song relates to real life.
2. The death of our food is somehow given new life through our life, as we consume its energy - "they have worked their will on John Barleycorn / But he lived to tell the tale / They pour him out of an old brown jug / And they call him home-brewed ale." Especially if we celebrate and honour the thing that died to feed us. (Perhaps this is related in some way to care for God's creation ... and our dependance thereon ... ? Hmmm ...)
3. This is the physical reflection of the metaphysical truth that Jesus' death was sacrificial and life-giving. What John Barleycorn did, Jesus has also done.
4. This is symbolically re-enacted in the Eucharist - completing the cycle from physical (John Barleycorn) to spiritual (Jesus' death and resurrection) and back to physical (the Eucharist).
5. The natural cycle of death and renewal is echoed in the year. As we are now entering the yearly period of death and destruction, symbolised by Harvest and Halloween, followed by the "light in darkness" imagery of Christmas and the gradual re-awakening of Lent and Easter, this is a very appropriate time to start looking at the concepts of death and darkness, sacrifice and the natural order.
So here's the prayer we used to bless our smoothies, spiced apple juice, and bruschetta. Note the deliberate references to the Eucharistic Prayer and God's promise to Noah of a fruitful natural order.
Father of all creation,
Author of the sun and the rain, the seedtime and the harvest,
We bless this food that you have given us, that earth has born, that human hands have made.
We honour the living things that have died to give us life,
The fruit of the vine, the seed, the flower.
As we eat of their flesh and drink their juice, may we be renewed and made stronger.
At this crossing of summer and winter, this turning of the seasons,
As light turns to darkness and the days draw in,
May we remember that as the fruits of the earth have died to feed us
As your son Jesus Christ has died to save us
And that in the spring your light will rise again
As John Barleycorn rose again to become life-giving drink
As Christ rose again with the light of his new life
Which never dies, and which he shares with us
In his body and blood
At your table.
This week's STAR OF THE WEEK is Mary Townley, for taking on an ambitious Creche session that included feltboard storytelling, planting flowers, and making fruit salad! She had help from Caroline Culme-Seymour and several of the parents, so thanks are also due to them.
Honourable Mention goes to Emma Chorley, who helped with the messy and complicated cooking in the Sunday School (carrying a heavy pot of hot apple punch across the community space!). But she got the award last week, and you can't win ALL the time ... :)