Astounded & Astonished

Notable historical figures get to become known by a sobriquet or nickname: some are complimentary such as Philip the Bold, Philip the Fair, and even Philip the Handsome. Others are not so: for example Ethelred the Unready, Ivar the Boneless and Wilfred the Hairy.  Alas, for St Thomas, who no matter what else he did will always be known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, and he has given this expression to the English language to describe an incredulous person.

'Thomas' was probably already a given name because it means ‘the twin’ in Hebrew ('Didymus' in Greek). Thomas was not a quiet, passive man. He was one who spoke up. When Jesus set out for Bethany to raise Lazarus, even though there was violent opposition to him there, Thomas declared, ‘let us go with him that we may die with him.’

Thomas was the one who asked the questions that others were thinking but dared not ask. When Jesus declared to his disciples that he was going to the Father’s house to prepare a place for them, and they knew the way to where he was going, Thomas replied, ‘Lord we have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?’

If we were Thomas, would we not probably have reacted in the same way in the upper room? After he returns, he finds the other apostles in a state of high excitement, of hysteria even. Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is alive again unless he sees the wounds and touches them. He will take some convincing; he needs tangible proof

The older we get, the more cynical we can get about the news. If something seems too good to be true, then it usually us, we might think. We might well be careful in weighing up information that we are given. We can’t believe everything we read in the papers or on the internet. People sometimes tell me some pretty tall tales in order to elicit cash from me. I usually find that the longer the tale the less likely it is to be true. The offer to go to the bus stop to pay the driver directly for the ticket to Lowestoft usually separates the genuine from the false request.

To be deceived is annoying, to think that you have been taken in can be a blow to one’s pride. But it can also be distressing if we do not believe someone’s tale of hardship and it turns out to be true. It can be doubly hard for that person needing help, who is both suffering and cannot get others to believe them. If we are not sure, then we may give someone the benefit of the doubt. St Vincent de Paul used to say that it is better to lose money than pity, better to have an open rather than a closed and hardened heart.

We are living through incredible times, and witnessing things that are hard to believe. If someone had told us, in their New Year forecast for 2020, that a terrible virus would sweep across the world, that our shops, restaurants, pubs and churches would be closed and we would be confined to our homes for weeks, would we have believed them?

If we had been told that it was possible to set up a hospital in nine days from scratch, would we have believed it?

If we had been told that a 99 -year-old man would raise over £25 million pounds for the NHS just by walking around his garden, would he have believed it?

Our current situation shows that we can still be astounded and astonished. The Nightingale Hospitals and Captain Tom Moore show what we are capable of as a people if we have a determined sense of purpose.

As we continue through the lockdown, there is a danger that if people start to wonder if they will get through this, then that thought becomes a fact, and they say ‘I won’t get through this.’ We must not let that happen. We must keep encouraging one another, especially those who are struggling. We must make the voice of faith and hope silence the voice of doubt and despair.

When Thomas sees Jesus his doubts are dispelled. Seeing was enough, and he exclaimed, ‘My Lord and my God.’ Jesus said to him how much more blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. Our belief in the risen Christ is fundamental to our Christian existence. He reinforces our hope and faith that all shall be made well, no matter how bleak the prospect may appear. Faith brings hope and hope brings joy. We must hold fast to him, and put our faith in the risen Lord, and be prepared to be astounded and astonished.


John 20.19-31