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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s reflection this Easter season


Dear friends,

We are now in the season of Easter. In the early Church, Easter was termed ‘the great Fifty Days’. It was forbidden to kneel or to fast for the whole of this period, and Easter celebrations only finished on Pentecost Sunday. In more recent times the Church has rediscovered this emphasis, recognising that Easter is a season and not just a day.

The Gospel accounts, though differing in detail as they recount the events surrounding the resurrection, all share some aspects in common. All four accounts prioritise the importance of the women. They were the first witnesses to the resurrection, which is a significant detail as the testimony of women did not count for much in law at the time. Secondly, in Matthew, Luke and John the theme of doubt is prominent. We read of doubt, (Matthew 28:17), scoffing (Luke 24:11), resignation (Luke 24:21) and fear and dismay (Luke 24:37). Luke records the incredulity Paul’s talk of resurrection sparked in Athens (Acts 17:32) and the story of Thomas suggests that this was not limited to non-Christians. However, all four Gospels agree on the fact of the empty tomb.

Christians down the centuries have been divided on how to make sense of the resurrection accounts. Some writers emphasise that resurrection is about the response of the believer and that it takes place in the heart of the faithful. Others take a counter cultural view and remind us that if God called all things into being and is at the heart of all reality, God can override our understanding of what is material and what is spiritual. Still others view it within a political framework and see the resurrection as generating a hope against death and injustice. It is about transforming life in the here and now and not just about endurance until we receive an eternal reward in heaven.

The bishop and biblical scholar Dr Tom Wright has written:

When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty rose with him. Something has happened in and through Jesus as a result of which the world is a different place, a place where heaven and earth have been joined for ever. God’s future has arrived in the present. Instead of mere echoes, we hear the voice itself: a voice which speaks of rescue from evil and death, and hence a new creation.

Theology is not chemistry or physics. The incarnation and resurrection cannot be understood as something produced in a divine laboratory. We can’t prove the resurrection, but in faith we can respond to it in a variety of ways.

This idea of a thoughtful faith brings me on to the theme of adult education. In last month’s issue of this Diocesan Magazine, Dean Tom Gordon announced that he would be retiring. I know that Tom has had a distinctive role in this Diocese since his appointment to Old Leighlin in 2010. He has been a faithful priest and pastor, a friend to many, an energetic Dean of the Cathedral Church of St Laserian, a creative liturgist and someone who has encouraged many throughout the Diocese to explore ministry in all its forms. Through his work as Adult Education Officer he has fostered a culture of Christian learning and exploration, and all this was done in a way that was both accessible and enjoyable. I have known Tom since I was a student at training for ministry at what was then the Church of Ireland Theological College and so can attest to all his gifts and to how I too have benefited from his support and encouragement over the years. I hope you will join with me in wishing Tom every blessing as he prepares, not for retirement, but for a new phase in life and ministry as he moves back full time to his home in Galway.

You will all have recently received the news that I have appointed the Revd Alec Purser as archdeacon of Cashel, Ferns, Waterford and Lismore. I am delighted that Alec has taken on this important role at my invitation and I know you join with me in wishing him well as he takes on this increased responsibility. The role of an archdeacon is set out in the Constitution of the Church of Ireland. It is an important office within the Church of Ireland and one for which the Revd Alec Purser is well equipped. Alec’s installation as Archdeacon will take place in the Cathedral Church of St John the Baptist and St Patrick’s Rock in Cashel on Sunday 21 April at 3.30pm. I know that not only his clerical colleagues, but also his parishioners and many others will want to be there in person to support him and to show solidarity across our united diocese.

On a sad note, the funeral of Canon John Flinn took place in St Peter’s Church, Ennisnag last month. He was held in high esteem as a priest and was a friend to many in Kells Union, where he ministered for a number of years. A skilled artist, as well as a fisherman, gardener and naturalist, he along with his late wife Dione, were very much part of the diocesan community. We extend our deepest sympathy to his daughters, Patricia, Bridget and Clare and to his son, Bill, and the family circle.

I come back to the season of Easter and to the words of another bishop and academic. When reflecting on how to live a Christian life of authenticity Dr Rowan Williams said ‘to put it a bit provocatively, it is about learning how to live in heaven by learning how to live on earth, in the body, in the moment.’ I leave you to reflect on these words as I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Easter.