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Vicar's Musings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

6 April, 2014

Lent this year has been particularly solemn at St Peter's, with the deaths of a number of parishioners. The most recent funeral was for 20 year-old Julian Thornton, dearly beloved son of Evelina and Ian, and brother of Xavier and Gianluca, killed in a road accident on the way to work. Early in the planning of the service it became clear that we would not fit into St Peter's Eastern Hill, and Fr James Bishop kindly came to the rescue and offered us the use of All Saints' East St Kilda. The funeral was a beautiful expression of ecumenism, with Julian's former headmaster Fr Tom Renshaw, Rector of Xavier College, delivering a stirring homily and more than half the congregation, many of whom were Roman Catholic, coming forward for communion.

Death — physical death as well as metaphorical death-to-self — has long been a Lenten theme. One of the most popular books of the late-medieval period was Ars moriendi ("The Art of Dying") a Latin text first published in 1415 and reproduced in 1450 with haunting woodcut illustrations, that gives advice on the art of dying well. The author, an anonymous Dominican friar, opens with an affirmation that death need not be feared, and then proceeds to demonstrate how common temptations that plague the dying person may be overcome: lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride and avarice. The book tells of the consolation of Christ's love in death as well as offering practical advice on deathbed protocols and prayers. The Wednesday afternoon Lenten study group has been reading Janet Morley's book The Heart's Time: a Poem a Day for Lent and Easter (SPCK, 2011). This week, rather fittingly, the theme has been "'A reckless way of going' — facing suffering and death" based on a poem by the twentieth-century English poet Edith J. Scovell entitled "Deaths of Flowers." In Ars moriendi fashion, Scovell's poem contrasts the way in which the iris dies, shrivelling up and drawing into itself, with the death of the tulip, flamboyantly opening up and recklessly shedding its petals to the very end "like flakes of fire."

I would if I could choose
Age and die outwards as a tulip does;
Not as this iris drawing in, in-coiling
Its complex strange taut inflorescence, willing
Itself a bud again — though all achieved is
No more than clenched sadness,

The tears of gum not flowing.
I would choose the tulip's reckless way of going;
Whose petals answer light, altering by fractions
From closed to wide, from one through many perfections,
Till wrecked, flamboyant, strayed beyond recall.
Like flakes of fire they piecemeal fall.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

Illustration for Lent 5 Musings

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