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St Perpetua and her companions

 

A short homily in honour of Perpetua and her companions,

Martyrs at Carthage.

7th March 202.

It is a while since I have turned my attention to the particular saint or martyr remembered in the CW lectionary at the Wednesday morning HC.

The collect for day is that written to honour Perpetua, Felicity and their companions and I thought it rather beautiful in its imagery.

Holy God, who gave great courage to Perpetua, Felicity and their companions;

Grant that we may be worthy to climb the ladder of sacrifice and be received into the garden of peace.

Through Jesus Christ your Son Our Lord

Who  is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

One God, now and forever.

Amen.

A short  few words about the life of Perpetua will explain the imagery which the collect takes. It is thought Tertullian, the early Christian Father of The Church , wrote some the narrative of their martyrdom.

But it is also very likely that Perpetua herself wrote an account of her visions and sufferings before she died, not least how her desperate father tried to get her to renounce her faith.

Perpetua was 22 years old from a prosperous family, a new convert to Christianity and newly widowed with a baby. Her friend Felicity was expecting a child and was a slave woman. During the times of Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, the two women and some male friends were arrested for their faith and locked in a dungeon. It was forbidden under this Emperor to be a Jew of Christian.

Perpetua had a vision in which she saw a golden ladder, guarded by a fierce dragon, but she climbed it, stepping on the dragon’s head to do so. At the top, she found herself in a green meadow, with many white-robed figures, and in their midst a shepherd, who welcomed her and gave her a morsel of cheese from the sheep-milk. She awakened and understood that their martyrdom was certain.

From this vision we have the collect prayer using the imagery of climbing a ladder of sacrifice and of the vision of the blessed garden or meadow.

Perpetua’s father pleaded with her to recount her faith. But  we possibly have  her own words when Perpetua said : “”On that scaffold, whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power but in that of God.” And he departed from me in sorrow.

Perpetua had another vision, in which she saw herself fighting against a gladiator in the arena, and winning. She understood this to signify victory over the devil.

One of her companions in gaol, Saturnus also had a vision  which he records in his own words, in which he and the others, having died in the arena, are borne by angels into a beautiful garden, where they greet other martyrs who have gone before them, and are brought before the throne of God, surrounded by twenty-four elders.

Refusing to recant their faith Perpetua and her friends were all martyred in Carthage in 203.

Gardens feature many times in the bible – Garden of Eden, Paradise. The garden of Gethsemane, The Garden  where  Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and others on the morning of his resurrection.  Both the visions of Perpetua and Saturnus speak of the peace and rest to be found in a heavenly garden after their persecution.

With spring truly gaining ground, we are blest with a powerful reminder of the new life and hope which a garden can give us. I find working  and occasionally sitting in a garden is a excellent part of  my Lenten spiritual journey – I hope you find pleasure and renewed hope in yours or indeed any garden you may find yourself in this spring.

March 7, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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