Ephesians 2. 19 – end
John 20. 24 – 29
All these ordinations this weekend and last have put me in mind of my time at the seminary in Mirfield, where a few of us had some slightly dubious pet devotions that we kept each year.
One was to St Justina of Padua; if you’ve never heard of her, she’s the patron saint of unicorns, for some reason.
The other was to the Feast of Our Lady of the Girdle. When I last went to Gloucester Cathedral I was delighted to find this event depicted in the great 14th Century east window there.
The tradition has it that when Our Lady was taken up into heaven, all the disciples witnessed it: all except, of course, St Thomas, who was absent (just as he was when Christ appeared to the disciples in our Gospel today).
And of course old doubting Thomas didn’t believe that this great event had really taken place; so as proof, Our Lady dropped her girdle down from the sky, for Thomas to pick up.
You can still see that same girdle if you wish, at the Saint Mary Church of the Holy Belt in Syria; though I should warn you that as one article I read on the subject rather drily put it: this incident is not recorded in the Bible.
But poor old Thomas. It’s not enough that he doubted Christ’s resurrection when all the others had seen it, but he’s been typecast ever since as a famous doubter, shoehorned into any episode that needs a doubting fall guy.
But if we’re really honest, don’t we have some sympathy for Thomas? Wouldn’t be have been the same?
We’ve followed Jesus through his astonishing ministry: he’s the Messiah, the chosen one of God, we’ve heard his wonderful teaching, we’ve seen his amazing miracles; but he’s just been arrested, tortured, and killed.
Was it all a lie? After this absolutely crushing blow, we’re expected to believe that the impossible has happened – Christ has come back to life.
But we have to take the word of all the others who have apparently seen him. Wouldn’t we be a little sceptical? Would we have the courage to believe again, after such a devastating reversal?
Whether or not we identify with Thomas, there’s something incredibly profound in what happens next. He isn’t cast out as an unbeliever. He isn’t damned for his lack of faith.
Jesus comes back specifically for him. He takes his doubts seriously; he shows him his wounds.
Because he knows that it is human to doubt; he knows as a fellow human being how it feels to doubt, as in that awful night in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And he knows how difficult it is to have faith; he knows that faith is a journey, something that takes time.
Consider his final words this morning. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
‘And yet have come to believe.’
We aren’t given these frankly impossible events to read about in the Bible, and told simply to believe them, or else. We are shown the incredible works of Christ and we are invited to believe them; we are called into a relationship with Christ, who takes our doubts seriously, who comes back for us again and again, and helps us to grow in faith, and love, and holiness, through the whole of our lives.
And having been one of us, he knows that we have the capacity for overcoming those doubts, that we can come to believe, against all the odds.
And he helps us to believe, just like he helped Thomas; he sends his Spirit to guide us, he comes to us in bread and wine whenever we gather together for the Eucharist, he lives in our hearts through faith, and inspires us with his love.
He calls us into something much bigger than ourselves: he makes us “citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” as we heard in our first reading.
So thank God for Thomas, who as our Collect puts it, was allowed by God to doubt the resurrection of his Son for the firmer foundation of our faith.
He was completely honest in his human reaction to this unbelievable news, so that we could be encouraged in our own times of doubt, that we will not be left alone to struggle; that Christ will always come back for us too.
Faith isn’t something we can heroically conjure up ourselves; it is a gift from God. In those moments when you have doubts, don’t feel bad about them; pray for the gift of faith. God will surely give it to you, as he gave it to Thomas, even in his great moment of doubt.
Almighty and eternal God, who, for the firmer foundation of our faith, allowed you holy apostle Thomas to doubt the resurrection of your Son till word and sight convinced him: grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe and so confess Christ