Sermon preached at Sung Mass, Thomas the Apostle (3 July 2016) by the Revd. James Milne, Sacrist

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Sermon preached at Sung Mass, Thomas the Apostle (3 July 2016) by the Revd. James Milne, Sacrist

Moving on after the EU Referendum requires an understanding of true strength, explains St Paul's Sacrist.

Today we celebrate the life and witness of Thomas the Apostle who, having grasped the risen Christ, travelled beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire to proclaim Jesus, his Lord and God, to a people far away. Tradition has it that Thomas arrived in Southern India midway through the first century and, having established a Church that survives to this day, was martyred some twenty years later near the city of Chennai, where his body now rests.  

It is perhaps unfortunate that this most intrepid and courageous of apostolic Missionaries should be remembered for his scepticism. Nevertheless, that famous encounter between doubting Thomas and the risen Christ, of which we have heard again this morning, has much teach us, perhaps more so now than at any other time.

Thomas was a realist who understood the risks that Jesus took. As they journeyed ever closer to Jerusalem he perceived what would happen to Jesus and yet, despite this, was ready and willing to stand by him come what may. Indeed, the Apostle John records that Thomas urged his fellow disciples to stay close to Jesus that they too might “die with him”. 

I have no doubt that Thomas saw with his own eyes the nails driven into the hands and feet of Jesus and the lance that pierced his side, and was vehement in his unbelief because his death was so terribly real to him. For Thomas to believe that Jesus was alive he needed more than a rumour of resurrection or a glimpse of life. He needed to see and feel those agonising, haunting wounds, transformed. 

See and feel Thomas does and, in an instant, he knows that only the creator of the universe could have fashioned new life in this battered body. It is this knowledge that here, in the person of Jesus stands God in all his glory, that drives Thomas to the very edges of the known world. 

In this remarkable encounter between doubting Thomas and the risen Christ, what is strong in the eyes of the world is seen to be powerless and what is weak in the eyes of the world is seen to be glorious. Indeed, Thomas the Apostle’s declaration “My Lord and my God” echoes that of the Centurion, the representative of the most powerful empire on earth, who as he gazes upon the Crucified Christ, declares him to be the Son of God.

The futility of human strength and power in the presence of the liberating, life-affirming actions of God, is a truth that runs throughout our Holy Scriptures, and yet it is a truth that we persistently fail to grasp, to the detriment of our common life together.

In the lead up to the Referendum on our Membership of the European Union we heard much about strength and weakness, and we were urged by people, on all sides of the debate, to vote for that which makes us strong. But through whose eyes did we view our strengths and our weaknesses?

Time alone will tell whether the decision to leave the European Union was the right one for God’s people or not, but today, inspired by Holy Scripture, there are some things that we must say about what is strong and what is weak, wherever we found ourselves in the referendum debate.

Forging relationships with neighbouring countries, particularly those with whom we have been at war in the past, is not weakness in the eyes of God, but strength. Requiring employers to treat their workers fairly, particularly those who are paid the least, is not weakness in the eyes of God, but strength.

Welcoming into our communities those fleeing conflict and poverty, particularly those for whose plight we bear some responsibility, is not weakness in the eyes of God, but strength. Rejoicing in diversity, particularly in those communities where people from different cultures and lands have settled together, is not weakness in the eyes of God, but strength. 

All these things bring the Kingdom of God, for which we daily pray, a little closer, and in them lies our true strength. 

After such a bitter and divisive campaign, in which some of the very worst facets of our common life together came to the fore, we are inevitably left wondering how on earth we can be the loving household of God of which Saint Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians speaks. 

Our salvation lies, I believe, in that encounter between Thomas and the risen Christ which we celebrate today. When Jesus stood before doubting Thomas, he did not hide his wounds nor seek to explain them away, but offered them up to Thomas that he might see and feel that God had transformed these horrific, life-denying wounds.

And if we wish to grasp the new life that has been promised to us in recent weeks, we too must have the grace and the courage to offer our societal wounds to God that, through his power and love, they might be transformed. We must not hide our wounds nor seek to explain them away but work together for their healing.

This task of transformation and healing is certainly the work of the Body of Christ here on earth enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Saint Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians speaks of a holy temple, a dwelling place for God, built on the foundations of Thomas and his fellow apostles, by a people who are citizens, not of earthly regimes, but of heaven.  

Strengthened by heavenly food may we commit ourselves today to building, with people of every age and race, communities in which love and compassion truly dwell. Amen.