Rev Dr Tess Kuin Lawton
Chaplain, Magdalen College School

The main problem I have with driving in Oxford at this time of year is trying, delicately, to avoid running over the vast throngs of people who crowd the streets.

In the part of the Cotswolds where my parish is (Bampton), the main problem at this time of year is trying not to be crushed under the gargantuan wheels of tractors ancient and modern.

Yes, forget the October school assemblies, early August is when the real harvest takes place.

Fields of wheat and corn and rape seed and grass all denuded and bundled up.

Giant hay ricks tucked into tiny lane ways as they stack the bales precariously high before moving them off to the barns.

“All, in the end is harvest.”

That quotation comes from Edith Sitwell’s poem, Euryidice: “Love is not changed by Death/ and nothing is lost and all in the end is harvest.”

It is a poem I love, because as a priest, even a school chaplain, looking after those who have died and those who mourn is an important part of my work.

It was Jesus who first suggested we might see ourselves as part of the pastoral landscape. He talked about our faith as tiny mustard seeds and about the importance of which part of the field we were planted.

Were we the seeds who fell by the wayside, or those who fell among stones?

Were we the seeds who were choked by weeds, or could our faith grow strong and tall towards the sun, in a bright field of corn?

Jesus walked and taught among the fields of Galilee and he would beg his followers to be the crop that yielded ‘a hundred fold’.

Death, particularly sudden or early death, can make you reflect deeply on your own life.

I work in an environment where my ‘parishioners’ (teenagers) find it genuinely impossible to think beyond the next day and the Buddha encouraged this ‘living in the moment’ as part of our spiritual practice.

Yet, all the great faith traditions also teach us to live with death as an integral part of life and this requires us to live in the present, but with an appreciation of how short the present might be. So, when Jesus yearns for our lives to yield ‘a hundred fold’, the death of someone we love can be the catalyst to reflect on what we are doing with our own lives and the fact that this everyday, mundane thing we call ‘routine’ is actually something extraordinary and precious that God calls ‘life’.

Jesus also said: “I come to bring you life in all its fullness.”

It is a concept which the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle employed; and he argued that it gave meaning and purpose to ethics and a reason for living. He called it ‘eudamonia’, or ‘fulfilment/ flourishing’. Jesus does not want us just to live, he wants us to flourish.

One of the beautiful things about the funeral of someone who has died too young, is the way we can sit and hear from the priest and from their friends, of the amazing number of things they managed to fit into their shortened lives; the blessing they were to all those who knew them.

Jesus believes that each one of us can be a blessing and that our lives can be used for the most remarkable purposes.

This does not mean that you immediately have to stop your work and start working for a charity.

But it does mean that you cannot miss all those small opportunities that you are given each day to be a blessing to others.