It was with great sadness that we heard, on Friday, of the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, just two months short of his 100th birthday. There was much about Prince Philip that was admirable. I think his loyalty to the Queen, his unfailing support, is especially notable. Their marriage and early years together are long before my time, but I imagine that for any man to carve out a role for himself as second to his wife was quite unusual – he was a man ahead of his time.
I gather that his main role model was Prince Albert; but, loving though it was, that was a marriage of only 21 years. Prince Philip maintained his role for 74 years, through times of huge change, always there by the Queen’s side and sharing her private as well as her public life. Despite his aristocratic roots, Prince Philip had an extremely difficult upbringing, which made the stability, longevity and abiding love of his own marriage all the more remarkable. He gave a very notable, military career, in order to take on his new role as the Queen’s consort. I’m sure we all agree that Her Majesty’s long reign would have been less successful and less remarkable without Prince Philip by her side.
He was also a great supporter of the Armed Forces, and of the conservation of wildlife and the environment – something he passed on to his son, Prince Charles. And of course, his award scheme for young people has been very popular for many years.
And so to today’s Gospel reading – the gathering in the upper room. In all the years that I’ve preached this is the first time I’ve ever paused to consider what a privilege it was for Jesus’ followers to be able to gather together. They were there because they were hiding, thinking they might be next in line for execution as the Roman state clamped down on the rumours that Jesus was back – had overcome their execution. So, you can imagine that they were able to console each other, to bolster each others’ courage, and maybe to make plans – what to do next.
That sort of support, with close physical contact of friends is something we’ve lost over the last year. If everything goes to plan, we’ll be able to gather again soon – hugs and handshakes will be so welcome. As these possibilities draw near, let’s acknowledge what we’ve missed, and let’s not return to normal without a moment to realise how special these new possibilities are – what blessings are there in friendship and good company.
And there’s Thomas. I love Thomas because he’s a man who likes to make his own mind up rather than simply tag along and follow the crowd. I’d love to know why he wasn’t there on that night. Was he having supper on his own in a strop or did he think it was too dangerous to gather together? Maybe he’d just forgotten or decided he needed some time on his own to think things through. Whatever the reason, his inability to believe unless he’d seen for himself, is something with which many can identify. He wasn’t so much the doubter as the questioner.
Thomas’ doubts were answered when Jesus appeared again, and was able to show Thomas the wounds that still marked his body – and so Thomas was able to believe, and went on to be the founder of the Christian Church in India – a church which continues to this day.
Thomas tells us that doubts are OK. Many of us doubt – Thomas shows us that this makes no difference to God’s love for us – Jesus is always there, waiting to show us his wounds, and his love. We may never get to touch these wounds physically as Thomas did, but dwelling on the humanity of Jesus, on the pain he suffered, on his broken body, is, perhaps a significant way of approaching doubt – when we understand Jesus’ humanity we are more able to grasp his divinity. Amen