Sunday reflection

Reflection for the second Sunday of Easter

Thomas…was not with the disciples when Jesus came….. He said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” From John 20:19-end, NIV.

“Somebody once said about him that he had a questioning faith, as if this was a bad thing, but you’ll never grow spiritually without questions and curiosity.”
The former Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, of Prince Philip.

The man now known as Doubting Thomas got his name because he wasn’t present when the resurrected Jesus came to those frightened disciples hidden away for fear of what might now happen to them. Although they told him Jesus had appeared, Thomas refused to believe until he’d seen for himself, perhaps thinking that they might have seen a ghost or exaggerated what had happened. He told them he must see for himself the marks of the nails and touch the wound caused by the spear. When Jesus returned a week later, Thomas was present and was invited to see and touch the reality standing before him. His needs were answered by Jesus and, after openly wrestling with his doubts, Thomas became the first person to call Jesus not only Lord but God. Later, Thomas took the Gospel to South India, clearly convinced of the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus – he was a man of an enquiring mind, wanting to see and touch reality for himself. Although called the doubter, Thomas was a man who became sure of the good news about Jesus and wanted others to know of it. As Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Through the questioning of Doubting Thomas, the honest man who wanted to find out for himself, Jesus’ word of hope comes down the years to encourage us as we struggle with the issues we face today.

Another man who had a questioning mind was Prince Philip, also the Earl of Merioneth, and the former Bishop of Norwich was convinced of the importance of this to develop a robust and lively faith. As well as the support and service he gave to the Queen and his many charities, the Prince was also known for blunt speaking and the gaffes he sometimes made on his visits. However, he had had a very difficult childhood with his family having to flee Greece in 1922, his father later leaving home and dying at an early age, his mother being in a psychiatric hospital for five years and the death of his sister Cecile’s entire family in a plane crash in 1937. Of the latter, he said, “I thought I would never get over it. It was such a terrible blow.” Prince Philip knew much of loss and death at an early age but Gordonstoun School and service in the Royal Navy gave him a structure on which he built without self pity. It’s clear from the tributes to him that he was a man of vision and action to whom the United Kingdom owes much in the service he gave to so many. Perhaps, in the wake of the mental health crisis now facing so many, his fortitude and example will inspire others to find fresh courage in the face of their own adversity.

Not many people organise their own funeral to the point of customising a Land Rover to carry their coffin and, because of the pandemic, Prince Philip’s funeral will have to be simpler than even he had hoped for. In common with so many others, there will only be thirty members of the Royal Family present due to the current pandemic restrictions. Perhaps that will also bring balm to the souls of those who couldn’t mark the death of their loved one in the way they would have wished or see them before they died like Prince Philip’s family during the last year and while he was in hospital. 
In speaking to schoolboys in Woking in 1947, Prince Philip said, “Let me remind you that the only prize worth winning is a clear conscience at the end of your days that you have lived a useful Christian life.” At the end of his life of service and duty, it’s clear that Prince Philip did this and overcame initial doubts about his role to serve his Queen, country and the Commonwealth with honesty and commitment. Dying during Eastertide, the story of Doubting Thomas is very much part of the Easter hope and transformation the Earl of Merioneth embodied – may the example of both men, so many years apart but sharing some similar characteristics, inspire us to continue the service and dedication they embraced and to do so with enquiring minds. So may God grant to the living, grace; to the departed, rest; to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth and humankind, peace and concord. Amen.
With my prayers,