“What’s a tare and why would you burn them? What exactly is a harvest home anyway? And why is this stuff still in hymnals, besides the tune being decent?” I suspect more than a few of the younger members of the choir and congregation were wondering that, especially those who come from outside the main-stream Protestant traditions. “Come, Ye Thankful people, Come” is pretty straightforward, but the rest?
A harvest home was the great celebration held on English manors and farms when the last sheaf had been cut and bundled. Everyone who had participated marched to the farm or manor house with the last bit of grain, bringing the harvest home. The farmer or property owner met them and treated them to cider, ale, and a large feast. The crop had been safely gathered in, sorted, and was put away out of the reach of the elements.
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 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 His harvest home;
From His 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 His garner evermore.
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 garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.
The other images come from Leviticus 23 (the dedication of harvest to the Lord) and Mark 4 and Matthew 13 (the parable of the Sower and the Seed).*
Tare is a name of vetches, a weedy plant that will grow in with crops, especially grains. You can’t really tell what is good and what is bad until the plants are well into their growth, and it is very hard to pull out the tares without damaging the standing grain and ruining the crop. But after the grain ripens, farmers collected the wheat and burned the weeds to prevent them from reseeding. Even today, having guaranteed clean and weed-free seeds for planting is really important.
I’ve had the “privilege” of helping hand-weed a quarter section of soybeans. It was not fun, and I happily heaved the nasty, prickly weeds into the burn pit. But the farmer, a co-worker, didn’t want to use more herbicide if he could avoid it, and with all the rain we’d been getting, it would probably wash off. Plus the weeds were broad-leaf just like the soybeans, and what did in the weeds would terminate the crop.
Today is a day set aside in the United States for giving thanks and for remembering the hard times during a period of abundance. Because compared to the past 1900 years or so, we truly live in marvelously fat years. Thanks to those who raise the food, thanks to those who make cooking and baking possible – the utility company workers, the miners and pipeline-support people, those who move the food – and above all thanks to the Author of the Feast, the Great Sower of all harvests
The marked site has a very detailed list of references and a history of the tune and the text, line-by-line.