Church of England Diocese in Europe

Sermon in Ankara for the Second Sunday of Easter (11th April 2021) - The Revd Patrick Irwin

Today's Gospel reading continues the story from the passage we heard last Sunday on Easter Day.  That passage ended with Mary Magdalene telling the disciples that she had seen the Lord.  Clearly she did not convince them.  For the disciples at this point of the story the empty tomb was not a sign of Christ's Resurrection but a source of disappointment and fear.  So they had gathered together in a frightened huddle in a locked house.  This has added poignancy for us who live in a world now familiar with lockdowns and self-isolation.

On the evening of that first Easter Sunday Jesus appeared, standing among the disciples in the locked house and said, "Peace be with you." He showed them the marks of nails in his hands and a hole in his side, vivid proof of the reality of his crucifixion. Then the disciples rejoiced because they had seen the Lord.The word "rejoice" is a strong one in the original Greek. The disciples were extremely glad indeed!

Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He would not believe that the disciples had seen the risen Jesus any more than the disciples had believed Mary when she told them that she had seen them. Disbelief is a continuing but not surprising element in the story, one that ironically gives added weight to the contention that the story is true. Nobody inventing such a miraculous occurrence would have presented themselves as being so suspicious of it.

It is said that for people like Thomas seeing is a prerequisite for believing. They need strong evidence. In fact Thomas was merely asking for what all the others had already experienced. Jesus had appeared in their presence and shown to them his wounded body. It was not unreasonable for Thomas to want to see the same. A week later Thomas was with the disciples when Jesus appeared again. Again he passed through locked doors and again he greeted the disciples with "Peace be with you". He invited Thomas to see and touch him. This was Jesus' invitation to Thomas for him to believe. So indeed he did, no longer needing to touch the body of Jesus and making a stronger confession than any other of the disciples, "My Lord and my God." This is indeed the fullest proclamation of faith in Jesus as God to be found in the whole Gospel.

It is rather unfair on Thomas that he has traditionally been called “Doubting Thomas”. Thomas is never thus described in the Gospel, where he is known as “the Twin”. Indeed he has a distinctive and attractive personality. When Jesus announced his intention to return to Judea and the other disciples tried to dissuade him because they knew that it would mean his death, it was Thomas who urged the others to follow Jesus “so that we may die with him”. It was Thomas who interrupted Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples with the reasonable comment, which probably gave voice to what the others were thinking, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” eliciting from Jesus the famous response, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” So Thomas appears as a faithful and realistic follower of Jesus.

After Thomas hailed Jesus as his Lord and his God Jesus praised those who would believe in him without seeing him, a group that includes all Christians from the younger original readers of this Gospel to believers of the present day. John explains that his account of the Gospel has been written to enable his readers to come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name. In other words, what happens to Thomas is exactly what John hopes will happen to each of us when we read his story. John as an old man in Ephesus has written his eyewitness account of Jesus so that future generations who have not seen in their lifetimes the death and resurrection of Jesus may nevertheless come to believe in him.

It is appropriate that we are thinking of Thomas on the day when we mourn the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. I suspect that Prince Philip warmed to Thomas, that faithful and realistic follower of Jesus, seeing in him virtues of honesty and common sense which he especially valued. Prince Philip has spent so long as the loyal and resilient, if occasionally outspoken, consort to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth that it is easy to forget that he sacrificed his own career for the woman he loved and the country he adopted. His devotion to duty and unswerving loyalty displayed over decades have set an example for us all. 

When Prince Philip was a head boy at Gordonstoun school his final report said of him, "Prince Philip is universally trusted, liked and respected. He has the greatest sense of service of all the boys in the school." In seventy-three years of marriage to The Queen he demonstrated this sense of service in a truly remarkable way.

Prince Philip will rightly be remembered and valued for the unstinting support that he always gave to his wife and his clear appreciation of the limits imposed as well as the opportunities provided by his position as consort. He will also be remembered for his splendid Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme which has enabled generations of young people (including myself and current young members of our community) to develop self-confidence and a variety of skills while contributing to the wellbeing of society. 

Today we thank God for the years of service that Prince Philip provided, for his voice of calm and sanity in many difficult situations, and for the love and support that he gave his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Personally I will remember in particular his distinctive wit and his enthusiastic singing of good hymns. May the Peace which the Risen Christ offered to his sad and anxious disciples now sustain and strengthen Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and all who mourn for Prince Philip, and may God's faithful and realistic servant Philip rest in peace and rise in glory.