Reflections over Easter offer opportunity to look forward with hope - Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon

A couple of weeks ago I took a family funeral near Dunblane in Scotland.

I drove north through our region, turned off the A1(M) just beyond Scotch Corner, and headed up through Northumberland and the Borders.

I picked up a Roman road and headed literally straight along a route that if it had been my usual driving experience through the Yorkshire Dales, would have been considerably more winding.

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This was a journey of my childhood and teenage years, with regular holiday visits to family north of the border.

Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon shares her Easter thoughts.

I hadn’t taken the road in years, so I took my time as I became reacquainted with the spectacular and rugged scenery. I stopped for lunch at the woollen mill outlet centre by Jedburgh.

It occurred to me that the café there looked a bit tired, but then I had to remind myself that twenty-plus years down the line, I was older too.

Refreshed by my stop, I continued on my way until the Wallace monument near Stirling came into view, and my destination was reached.

Planning for any funeral service involves this process of looking back through the journeys of our lives, and my aunt’s service was a good example of this.

My cousins were full of stories about their mum, from her having to be rescued by three strangers when her mobility scooter got jammed on a kerb, to their precious memories of family holidays by the beach; the stories they shared were full of laughter and joy. What a gift at a time of sadness.

Catching up with family too after a very long time of not seeing one another was great, and as we gathered to say farewell we found our bonds of connection were strengthened in the time we were able to be together.

Easter too is a time of looking back, as well as looking beyond the present moment with curious hope. The night before Jesus died he had a meal with his friends, and at this meal he asked them to take ordinary bread and wine in order to remember him.

Christians still share this special meal today, and I take that word ‘remember’ as it literally is: to re-member, to put back together in order to make whole.

In looking back at my own recent family event, I recognise the value of reconnecting and putting relationships and memories back together, even if that is messy and challenging at times.

Jesus’ death may have looked like a complete failure of his mission, but Easter Day proved that wrong.

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It enabled a light to be shone in the messiness of grief, a reminder that death doesn’t have the final word even if it looks and feels like that at times.

For sure there is plenty nationally and globally at the moment to feel the absence of hope trust and integrity. There’s no point to the Easter message about Jesus’ resurrection if it cannot speak hope into all of this.

It’s not about pious platitudes either: ‘it’ll get better, just wait.’ Try saying that to a refugee fleeing war and violence, or a person freezing at home because they can’t afford to put the heating on.

I was asked to write this piece on the same day I found out the news of the death of the YP’s beloved Tom Richmond.

Back in 2020, when things were difficult during lockdown, and myself and a handful of bishops received death threats due to our criticism of the breaking of lockdown laws in Government circles (a story that seems strangely resonant today), it was Tom who got in touch to offer his concern, solidarity and support.

At the time that meant a great deal, and looking back now, it still does. Many tributes have been paid to Tom, and my heart goes out to his colleagues who mourn his sudden passing.

It’s hard to imagine a future when a hugely valued member of the team isn’t there.

One of the things my cousin said to me after his mum’s funeral was about that: when his father died it became all about mum. Now she was gone, he was struggling to comprehend those familiar patterns of everyday life. I remarked how the marks of her life were still felt: the laughter, the welcome of a home, the picnics by the beach.

Go with that, I said, and make them your own. So much of the narrative of Easter invites us to enter into its drama with the stuff of our own lives, even the boringly ordinary and routine bits.

Every detail matters; nothing is wasted. Today, Saturday, as we sit in the in-between hours from death on Good Friday to joyous new life on Easter Day there is an opportunity to shine fresh light on tired lives, with faithful and patient hope. Happy (almost) Easter!

Bishop Helen-Ann born in Edinburgh, grew up in north-east England and welcomed to the Diocese of Leeds on February 4 2018, having previously been Bishop of Waikato in New Zealand, an office she has held since 2014. At the time she was the first woman priest ordained in the Church of England to become a bishop.