Looking at the stories about Jesus appearing to his friends after he had risen from the dead in school, we looked at the story of Jesus appearing at the side of the lake while the disciples were out in a boat fishing. Reading the Good News Bible that we use in school, one verse seemed odd, Saint John Chapter 21 Verse 7 says, “When Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken his clothes off) and jumped into the water.” Who puts on all their clothes before jumping into a lake? It seemed a plain daft thing to do. (The fact that the Gospel writers don’t take out the odd things is always encouraging, it means they told the story as it was rather than wrote a story themselves where everything fitted neatly together).
It was the first time, though, that the verse seemed odd, the first time when the question occurred to me: why do something so strange?
Questions came up quite a lot on a visit to Flanders and the Somme with a group from Co Laois. We went to a grave of a man from a farm outside of Portarlington, a man whose brother had been nursed in Mountmellick Hospital by one of the ladies in our group. In a deeply moving act, one of our group poured a little container of soil from the home farm onto the man’s grave and took a little soil from the grave to take back to the farm.
We were not sure, but it might have been the first time the man’s grave had been visited by somebody from home; he had died two weeks before the end of the First World War. Of course, in times past, travel was not cheap, and going to a grave was not something easily done, but it wasn’t just that the graves of the men were not visited, the men were not even talked about – sons and brothers, husbands and fathers disappeared from memory.
Standing in that cemetery the thought occurred to ask “why” this had happened. Certainly, fear of the IRA in the 1920s would have made some people keep quiet, but in Church of Ireland parishes, when memorials were being put up, why did they not honour everyone who had died? Even if they had not mentioned everyone by name, they could have acknowledged the number. Why were families left with not only the loss, but not even the chance to talk about their loss?
Writing these notes on the 99th anniversary of the Easter Rising, there is a sense that in the coming year we must ask odd questions, ask questions about why all Irish people are not included in history.
Like the stories of the Risen Jesus, the bits of Irish history do not fit neatly together, but we need to have the courage to be like those who wrote the Gospels and to tell all that we know.