Sunday 3rd July 2016
Thomas the Apostle
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
BCP Evensong
Job 42.1-6
1 Peter 1.3-12

Politicians, no matter how varied their successes and failures, are usually remembered for one thing: David Cameron will be remembered as the Prime Minister who gambled on winning a Referendum on the EU and lost; Tony Blair will be remembered for the Iraq War; Anthony Eden is remembered for Suez; and Neville Chamberlain is remembered for his little piece of paper; but, it's not all negative, as Churchill will always be remembered for winning the Second World War. Saints are in something of a converse position, they are usually remembered for one real or traditional good thing which was represented in the early church by a symbol, something carried in their hand to remind the faithful, except for one, Thomas, who was remembered for one bad thing, doubting Jesus after the Resurrection.

Let us just remind ourselves of the story from the Gospel of John Chapter 21. Jesus appeared to his disciples on their locked room on the evening of the day when he had risen but Thomas was not there and so he refused to believe what his friends said but, when we think about it, the leaders of the disciples had not believed the women earlier on the same day and, worse, they were so sceptical about the Resurrection message that they continued to keep the doors locked. But there's a second factor which is, in my view, even more telling and that is that in the first appearance of Jesus, from which Thomas was absent, he undertook what is described in Acts by Luke at Pentecost as the coming of the Holy Spirit. So in John's account, Thomas was never breathed on by Jesus with the Holy Spirit but at no time was his Apostolic status ever questioned. Tradition says that he died in India, the Apostle who had gone the greatest distance to the strangest culture for his Risen Lord; and I would like to remember him for that, not the rather doubtful story which makes a fine theological point about belief at his expense.

By the time of the writing of the First Letter of Peter the Resurrection, informed by Pentecostal spirituality, had attained a fixed perspective in the early Church, portrayed in luminous language: "... a new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance which is imperishable ... for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." There will be suffering, says the Letter, no doubt mindful of contemporary outbursts of persecution resulting in Christian martyrs, but through the Resurrection of Jesus we will persevere.

In even more elaborate language, the same message is set out at great length in the Book of Job where his stubborn faithfulness in the face of his supposed friends and a wild, self-opinionated enthusiast, is justified by the happy ending. It does not matter, the story says, if you are faithful to God, no matter what your suffering, things will turn out for the best.

Both Readings, then, bring us messages of hope in the faithfulness of God and the Resurrection of Jesus, hope which we surely need right at this moment because no matter which way we voted in the EU Referendum, we are in for a time of great turbulence during which many will suffer. It might seem trivial if a family has 10% less to spend on a cheap Spanish holiday; it might seem tolerable if a pension accumulated throughout a working life is 5% smaller than forecast; it might seem rather theoretical to talk about lost jobs if our jobs are safe, but there will be a great deal of suffering for which people will need all the help and strength they can get. Few of you will doubt that when I heard the result my immediate reaction was deep disappointment but my proper reaction, which took some days to coalesce, was that there are people who need real comfort about their real needs rather than an account of my intellectual discomfort about a cause I supported.

Since the votes were counted there has been a huge amount of condemnation of those who voted for Brexit but it isn't condemnation that they need and it isn't ours to dole out. They will know soon enough if they have made a mistake without our having to say anything but they will need hope; and the fundamental message of the New Testament is hope.

But before we can bring a message of hope to others we have to believe in it ourselves so that it can radiate out in the power of the Holy Spirit. The word in our text is "living" hope but I prefer the more traditional "lively" hope. Our hope is not that pallid sentiment that after a disastrous loss to Iceland the England team will somehow get better, it is the hope at our spirit-indwelled core which speaks of eternal life through salvation, a hope that puts all earthly setbacks and sufferings into a proper perspective.

Whatever the ins and outs of the story of Saint Thomas, whatever the sense of shame which Saint Peter felt after his denial of Jesus, whatever the failings of a tortuous and sometimes tortured spiritual life, the followers of Jesus knew, as we must know as his followers, that we have been promised eternal life by a saviour who keeps his promises. Against that, no matter how severe our setbacks may seem at the time, they are simply part of our following, of our vocation as what Peter a few verses later describes as our Royal Priesthood.

And so, inasmuch as we might have failed to follow Jesus during the Referendum campaign, individually and collectively, carried away by a fear which frequently obscured our duty of hospitality to all of God's creatures, we live to try again, to put right what we have got wrong, safe in the knowledge that we will receive mercy at the heavenly throne.

Our sorrow may be nothing to that of the Apostles after the death of Jesus; our doubts may be small compared with their doubts; and our joys may not be so luminous as theirs at Pentecost; but as settled heirs of a promise which the Church has patiently delineated for us and with us, we must strengthen our hope and radiate it, through those we meet, to all the world.