Some of you may have heard me say before that I remember being at a meeting many years ago with Bishop Colin Buchanan shortly after the ASB (Alternative Service Book 1980) was published. He had been instrumental in its publication and in the revision of the lectionary which accompanied it. The new calendar had moved the feast day of St Thomas from the 21 December as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer to 3 July. The question was asked what churches, like St Mary’s, should do if they ran on both calendars: that of the Book of Common Prayer and the new one, the Revised Common Lectionary. He was unequivocal in his answer, St Thomas is definitely worth celebrating twice each year – I was delighted and reassured not least because, as again some of you know, St Thomas, at least according to the BCP, is my birthday saint, I was born on 21 December. Indeed my parents had contemplated adding Thomas to the name they had chosen for me but decided, probably thankfully, that naming their first son, James Edward Thomas, thereby giving him initials JET when your surname is Power was not wise!
Anyway, I have grown to love St Thomas – the Doubter – the one who is willing to ask the awkward question, the one who is willing to stand out from the crowd. The one who earlier in the Gospel has said to Jesus when he declares to the disciples that they know the way to where he is going, retorts, How can we know the way if we don’t know where you are going? The one who elicits from Jesus that wonderful, rich and frequently misinterpreted verse, “I am the way, the truth and the life”.
My other reason for being particularly drawn to him is that he is identified as the apostle to India, where I spent some time while reading theology at university; his memory is honoured in the name of the Mar Thoma Church, the indigenous church of India, which describes itself as "Apostolic in origin, Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, and Episcopal in character" – definition worth further and deeper reflection.
But what of today’s Gospel reading? The major incident is indeed the questioning of the resurrection by Thomas – prefiguring the modern mind but certainly also reflecting the doubts of the first disciples, he refuses, not unreasonably, to believe dead bodies can come back to life; he had incidentally witnessed the raising of Lazarus, but he had also witnessed, presumably the brutal death of Jesus. The disciples are in “lock-
down”; it is implied that they meet weekly, on the evening of the first day of the week. On the first Easter evening, Thomas, for whatever reason, and we don’t know, is absent. The mystery of resurrection is revealed to include the giving of the Holy Spirit, to equip the disciples in their task – notice that the timing according to St John is different from that recorded by St Luke, whose timetable we follow in the lectionary: 40 days of appearances leading up to the Ascension and ten days later the great feast of Pentecost – 50 days after Passover, which is what the word means. For St John, the Spirit is breathed upon the disciples on that first Easter Day, the first day of the new creation: Thomas is absent, Thomas questions the events. A week later, he is given his chance to experience physically what he has questioned: here are the wounds, place you hands, as you requested, into them.
As I frequently mention, the wounds are crucial to our understanding of the glorified and resurrected life; indeed, they are crucial I believe to our salvation and to our understanding of what God does with us in our complicated, compromised lives. Our wounds, our failures, our doubts and our confusions are not merely wiped out but taken and woven into the fabric of our healed and resurrected selves as they were on and in the body of our risen Lord. Thomas recognised exactly that and once again an incident involving him as recorded by St John elicits a wonderful and rich response, “My Lord and My God.” Here, as we approach the end of John’s Gospel account is the answer to the question he has been posing throughout: who is Jesus? Nothing less than My Lord and My God – God on earth, God with us……..and notice the presence of the possessive pronoun – “My”. Our faith invites us into a living, personal relationship with God who is revealed in the one who inhabits human life and raises it to new hope and glory. He shared in our humanity so that we may share in his divinity………wounds and all!