Sunday, 23 April 2017

Celebrating Saint George,
a day early or a day late

The George and Dragon, Beacon Street, Lichfield … marking Saint George’s Day with family fun today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today [23 April] is normally marked in the Church Calendar as Saint George’s Day. However, most churches probably marked today as the Second Sunday of Easter, or Low Sunday.

The ‘Rules to Order the Christian Year’ in Common Worship advise: ‘When St George’s Day or St Mark’s Day falls between Palm Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive, it is transferred to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter. If both fall in this period, St George’s Day is transferred to the Monday and St Mark’s Day to the Tuesday.’

Because Saint George’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, the Saint George’s Day celebrations in Lichfield were held instead yesterday [Saturday 22 April 2017]. The historic Saint George’s Court, an Ancient Manorial Court dating back to 1548, was held in the Lichfield Guildhall yesterday, where the court took place in a light-hearted and entertaining atmosphere, with the Mayor of Lichfield, as Lord of the Manor, presiding, assisted by the Town Clerk as Steward of the Manor.

The Court Baron and View of Frankpledge, commonly known as Saint George’s Court, is an ancient manorial court. The manorial rights of the Barony of Lichfield were transferred by Charter of Edward VI in 1548 to the Bailiffs, Burgesses and Commonalty of the City, which in today’s terms mean the Mayor, councillors and citizens.

The Court is now held in a light-hearted manner but still appoints the ancient officers of the manor: two High Constables, seven Dozeners (or petty constables), two Pinners and two Ale Tasters.

The High Constables report on their work during the previous year, and a jury is empanelled and then imposes fines on those who have rejected the summons to attend, after first hearing their amusing excuses.

The George Hotel, Lichfield ... commemorated Saint George and the Dragon until the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The George Hotel in Bird Street is one of the oldest hotels in Lichfield. In the 19th century, the hotel’s sign depicted Saint George and the Dragon, and – despite changes over the years – the name George has been retained in the hotel name.

A little further north, the George and Dragon on Beacon Street is a friendly local pub with stunning views of Lichfield Cathedral from the garden behind, including the site of Prince Rupert’s Mound, an important battle site during the Siege of Lichfield in the English Civil War in the 1640s.

Today, this quiet corner of Lichfield has a quaint, semi-rural atmosphere about it.

Despite Saint George’s Court being moved a day this weekend, there is a Family Fun Day entertainment in the George and Dragon today to celebrate ‘England’s most noble patron saint.’ Only the most pedantic critic would point out that Saint George is not English at all – after all, the English might then end up laying claim to Saint Patrick.

A family fun day at the George and Dragon today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Some years ago, Archbishop John Sentamu of York launched a campaign for a bank holiday in England to mark Saint George’s Day. ‘As someone who is inspired by Saint George’s refusal to renounce his discipleship of Jesus Christ,’ he said, ‘I have long campaigned for us to have a special holiday where we can celebrate our patron saint and all that is great about our wonderful nation.’

But sometimes I think it is the way Saint George and Saint George’s Day have been hijacked by far-right elements in England that prevents many English people from enjoying Saint George’s Day in ways similar to the celebrations marking Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

And I often think it is it due to lingering Irish antagonism towards England – unspoken, but for all that no less distasteful – that Saint George’s Day is seldom marked in Ireland, even in churches that bear his name.

We have North Great George’s Street, and South Great George’s Street in Dublin; there is a George’s Street in Wexford, and there was once a George’s Street in Limerick, although it was renamed O’Connell Street many years ago.

I imagine there are similarly named streets in most Irish cities and large towns. In his recent book, Churches of the Church of Ireland Dedicated to Saint George, Duncan Scarlett records how the cult of Saint George was popular in the Pale until the Reformation.

Many of these are Georgian churches, and may have been named not in memory of Saint George but in honour of one the Hanoverian monarchs, usually King George III or King George IV.

The pediment of the former Saint George’s Church, Hardwicke Place, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There never was a liturgical provision for the Feast of Saint George – not even in the period when the Church of Ireland the Church of England were united, from the Act of Union in 1801 to disestablishment in 1871.

Since 1928, Saint George’s Church in Belfast has celebrated this feast day liturgically – but only since 23 April 1928. But the bells of Saint George’s in Hardwicke Place, Dublin, were rung throughout the afternoon of 23 April at one stage in the 19th century.

Statues of Saint George in Lisbon (top) and Barcelona (below) (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

I have noticed in recent years how Saint George is the patron saint of both Lisbon and Barcelona. So why have Irish people come to see Saint George as being particularly English? And why has George lost popularity in Irish families as a child’s name?

Indeed, who is Saint George?

Was there ever such a person?

Can we separate the historical George from the mythical George of the stories of George and the Dragon?

And why is he so popular universally – apart from Ireland?

Saint George slaying the Dragon … a Cappadocian martyr depicted in the chapel of Saint Basil in Goreme in Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Greek name Γεώργιος (Geōrgios, Latin Georgius) means ‘worker of the land.’ It is likely that Saint George was born to a Christian noble family in Lydda or Lod, south-east of present-day Tel Aviv, in the late third century, sometime between about 275 AD and 285 AD, and that he died in Nicomedia, present-day Izmit, about 100 km east of Istanbul in modern Turkey.

It is said that his father was a Roman army official from Cappadocia, and his mother was from Palestine. They were both Christians and from noble families of Anici, and the child was raised a Christian.

At the age of 14, George’s father died, and his mother died a few years later. George then decided to visit the Emperor Diocletian in the imperial city of Nicomedia seeking a career as a soldier. Diocletian welcomed him with open arms, and by his late 20s George was a tribunus, attached to the imperial guard in Nicomedia.

In the year 302, Diocletian issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods. But George objected and with the courage of his faith approached the Emperor.

Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best tribune and the son of his best official. George loudly denounced the emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes declared himself a Christian. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering him gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods. But George declined all the offers from the emperor.

Accepting the futility of his efforts, Diocletian ordered his execution. Before the execution, George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After being tortured, George was beheaded before the city walls of Nicomedia on 23 April 303. When the Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, saw his suffering they too became Christians, and they too were martyred.

Saint George’s body was returned to Lydda or Lod for burial, and Christians began to revere him as a martyr. He is honoured by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which refers to him as a ‘Great Martyr,’ and is a popular saint in Greece, Romania, Russia and other Orthodox countries.

Inside Saint George’s Church in Panormos, east of Rethymnon, in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But how did Saint George become the patron saint of England?

Saint Edward the Confessor, who died on 5 January 1066, was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 116. For some reason, he is commemorated on 13 October by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, and he was regarded as the patron saint of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses. From the reign of Henry II until 1348, he was revered as the patron saint of England.

However, during the reign of Edward III he was replaced as patron by Saint George, although Edward has remained the patron saint of the British royal family.
Saint George was mentioned among the martyrs by Bede. His feast day soon gained widespread popularity throughout England, especially with the Crusades. Saint George’s flag, a red cross on a white background, was adopted by England and the City of London in 1190 for ships entering the Mediterranean to benefit from the protection of the Genoese fleet during the Crusades.

In 1222, the Synod of Oxford declared Saint George’s Day a feast day throughout England. The English were heard invoking Saint George as a battle cry on several occasions during the Hundred Years’ War.

The now-closed Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church in Comberford, Staffordshire, between Lichfield and Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When the English Reformation severely curtailed the saints’ days in the Church Calendar, Saint George’s Day was one that managed to survive. Nevertheless, it is still surprising that England’s patron saint was never selected from a list of English saints that includes Saint Alban (died 209, 251, or 304, feast day 22 June), Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (died 687, feast day 20 March), Saint Edmund the Martyr (870, 20 November), Saint Edward the Confessor (1066, 30 November) or Saint Thomas a Becket of Canterbury (1170, 29 December).

The English far right has tried to capture Saint George and to use his flag as they claim immigration poses a threat to English national identity. In the post-Brexit atmosphere in England today, and amid all the clamour of nationalist rhetoric that is going to be sounded during this election campaign, it is worth remembering that Saint George was born in Palestine to a Turkish father and Palestinian mother, that he lived in the Middle East.

He would never have made it to Britain if he had tried to flee those who vilified his religious beliefs. Instead, he was murdered by people who persecuted him because of his religious beliefs. He stands for anything but the anti-migrant rhetoric, racism and xenophobia that we are in danger of hearing over the next few weeks.

The apse and nave in Saint George-in-the East, Wapping (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Collect (Common Worship):

God of hosts,
who so kindled the flame of love
in the heart of your servant George
that he bore witness to the risen Lord
by his life and by his death:
give us the same faith and power of love
that we who rejoice in his triumphs
may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer (Common Worship):

Eternal God,
who gave us this holy meal
in which we have celebrated the glory of the cross
and the victory of your martyr George:
by our communion with Christ
in his saving death and resurrection,
give us with all your saints the courage to conquer evil
and so to share the fruit of the tree of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A glass of wine on a summer afternoon at Fort St George, the oldest pub on the River Cam in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Why love and not death has the
final triumph on ‘Low Sunday’

‘Quasimodo Sunday’ takes its name from the Latin introit ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes ...,’ ‘Like new-born infants ...’

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday, 23 April 2017:

The 2nd Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday),


11.15 a.m., The Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; I Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31.

May I speak to you + in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, has a number of names that introduce us to important Christian values, ideas and concepts.

In the Eastern Churches, this day is known as Thomas Sunday, because of the dramatic story about the Apostle Thomas in our Gospel reading this morning.

In many places, this Sunday is known as Low Sunday. Some say it was called ‘Low Sunday’ because today’s liturgy is something of an anti-climax after the solemn Easter liturgy and celebrations a week ago. Some even joke that today is known as Low Sunday because this is the Sunday choirs take off after their hard work during Holy Week and Easter.

In some places, including parts of France and Germany, this day is called ‘Quasimodo Sunday.’ The Latin introit for the day begins: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes ...,’ ‘Like new-born infants ...,’ words from I Peter 2: 2 reminding newly-baptised Christians and all baptised members of the Church that we have been renewed, like new-born infants, in the waters of Baptism.

Quasimodo, the sad hero in Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), was abandoned as a new-born baby in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on this Sunday, and so was given the name Quasimodo by Archdeacon Claude Frollo who found him.

Perhaps Quasimodo and his love for Esméralda would make a wonderful sermon topic some day. It is a story of how people are often judged, and judged wrongly, because of their looks, their clothes and their social status. Quasimodo is despised because of the large, ugly wart on his face and his disfigured body, and he is ridiculed for his inarticulate speech and for his deafness. And Esméralda fails to appreciate the true beauty and undying nature of the love Quasimodo offers her.

Esméralda, for her part, despite her beauty, her compassion and her talents, is despised because of her ethnic background, her manners and her clothes: those who see her first see her as a gypsy, and so is side-lined and objectified. You might expect an anchorite to be a holy woman, but even Sister Gudele, figuratively representing the Church, curses the gypsy girl who is her true daughter, while Archdeacon Frollo’s all-consuming lust and desire for Esméralda run contrary to the ideals of his ministry and the mission of the Church.

Yet, there is a hint at the Easter theme in this story: Phoebus is not dead, Esméralda is put on trial and sentenced to death unjustly, and is saved from death by Quasimodo. In the end, despite its sadness, it is love and not death that has the final triumph in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Victor Hugo may be a little old-fashioned today, but Quasimodo and Esméralda have important lessons and values for us today. Beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, and seeing is not always believing. Quasimodo may appear to be ugly, but his love is pure and has an eternal quality. Esméralda appears to be beautiful, but those who are stirred to passion on seeing her put little value on love, respect and inner integrity.

In our society today, are we easily deceived by appearances?

Do we confuse what pleases me with beauty and with truth?

Do we allow those who have power to define the boundaries of trust and integrity merely to serve their own interests?

Are we are happy to live in a society where a fiscal lack of accountability on the part of politicians, and where obvious obfuscation are accepted instead of honest explanation or confession, as long as my future continues to look prosperous and I continue to be guaranteed a slice of the economic cake?

But appearances often deceive. Those who appear to be ugly are not so due to any fault or sinfulness, and they are often gentle and good-at-heart. Those who appear to be beautiful may threaten our personal confidence and security. And those who appear to guarantee economic, social or political stability may simply be serving their own needs and interests – as Esméralda finds out with Captain Phoebus and the jealous Archdeacon Frollo.

In life, how often do we fail to make the vital connection between appearances and deceptions on the one hand, and, on the other hand, between seeing and believing?

Quiet often, I think, this comes down to our different styles of learning and approaches to integrating information. How do you learn?

Think of how you go about learning yourself. Can you remember the latest gadget you bought? When you get a new car, or a new computer, do you first open the manual and read through the instructions carefully? Once you have read the handbook thoroughly and understand how all it works, you then get to work on your own.

Or perhaps you love buying flat-pack furniture, taking it home, and without ever looking at the instructions, figure out how to assemble it. Others, like me, get frustrated and end up with odd bits and pieces, but you see it as a challenge. Like a game of chess, you know that once all the pieces are placed correctly you are ready to move in and to win. The prize is that new coffee table or that new wardrobe.

And then there are those who prefer to have someone sit down beside them, show them how to do things, from switching on the new computer, to setting up passwords, folders and email accounts.

What sort of learners are Mary in last week’s Resurrection story, Thomas in this morning’s Gospel reading, and the other disciples in those readings?

For Mary, appearances could be deceiving. When she first saw the Risen Lord on Easter morning, she did not recognise him. She thought he was the gardener. But when he spoke to her she recognised his voice, and then wanted to hold on to him. From that moment of seeing and believing, she rushes off to tell the Disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord.’

Two of them, John the Beloved and Simon Peter, had already seen the empty tomb, but they failed to make the vital connection between seeing and believing. When they heard Mary’s testimony, they still failed to believe fully. They only believe when they see the Risen Lord standing among them, when he greets them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and when he shows them his pierced hands and side.

They had to see and to hear, they had to have the Master stand over them in their presence, before they could believe.

But Thomas the Twin, or Thomas Didymus, is missing from the group on that occasion. He has not seen and so he refuses to believe.

We can never be quite sure about Saint Thomas in this Gospel. After the death of Lazarus, he shows that he has no idea of the real meaning of death and resurrection when he suggests that the disciples should go to Bethany with Jesus: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11: 16). And while Saint Thomas saw the raising of Lazarus, what did he believe in? Could seeing ever be enough for a doubting Thomas to believe?

At the Last Supper, despite assurances from Christ, Thomas protests that he does not know what is happening (John 14: 5). He has been with Christ for three years, and still he does not believe or understand. Seeing and explanations are not enough for him.

On the first Easter Day, the Disciples locked themselves away out of fear. But where is Thomas? Is he fearless? Or is he foolish?

For a full week, Thomas is absent and does not join in the Easter experience of the remaining disciples. When they tell him what has happened, Thomas refuses to accept their stories of the resurrection. For him hearing, even seeing, are not enough.

Thomas wants to see, hear and touch. He wants to use all his learning faculties before he can believe this story. See, hear and touch – if they had manuals then as we now have, I’m sure Thomas would have demanded a manual on the resurrection too.

His method of learning is to use all the different available approaches. He has heard, but he wants to see. When he sees, he wants to touch … he demands not only to touch the Risen Jesus, but to touch his wounds too before being convinced.

And so for a second time within eight days, Christ came and stood among his disciples, and said: ‘Peace be with you.’

Do you recall how Mary was asked in the garden on Easter morning not to cling on to Christ? So why then is Thomas invited to touch him in the most intimate way? He is told to place his finger in Christ’s wounded hands and his hand in Christ’s pierced side.

Caravaggio has depicted this scene in his painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Yet we are never told whether Thomas actually touched those wounds. All we are told is that once he has seen the Risen Christ, Thomas simply professes his faith in Jesus: ‘My Lord and my God!’

In that moment, we hear the first expression of faith in the two natures of Christ, that he is both divine and human. For all his doubts, Thomas provides us with an exquisite summary of the apostolic faith.

Too often, perhaps, we talk about ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Instead, we might better call him ‘Believing Thomas.’ His doubting led him to question. But his questioning led to listening. And when he heard, he saw, perhaps he even touched. Whatever he did, he learned in his own way, and he came not only to faith but faith that for this first time was expressed in that eloquent yet succinct acknowledgment of Christ as both ‘My Lord and My God.’

Too often, in this world, we are deceived easily by the words of others and deceived by what they want us to see. Seeing is not always believing today. Hearing does not always mean we have heard the truth, as we know in Irish life and politics today. It is easy to deceive and to be deceived by a good presentation and by clever words.

Too often, we accept or judge people by their appearances, and we are easily deceived by the words of others because of their office or their privilege. But there are times when our faith, however simple or sophisticated, must lead us to ask appropriate questions, not to take everything for granted, and not to confuse what looks like being in our own interests with real beauty and truth.

May all our thoughts, all our prayers and all our deeds be + in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Carravagio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Collect:

Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
Grant us so to put away the leaven
of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him.
Deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on Sunday 23 April 2017, the Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday).

Turning ‘Doubting Thomas’
into ‘Believing Thomas’

Carravagio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday, 23 April 2017:

The 2nd Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday),


9.45 a.m., Morning Prayer, Castletown Church, Co Limerick.

Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; I Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31.

May I speak to you + in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, has a number of names that introduce us to important Christian values, ideas and concepts.

In the Eastern Churches, this day is known as Thomas Sunday, because of the dramatic story about the Apostle Thomas in our Gospel reading this morning.

In many places, this Sunday is known as Low Sunday. Some say it was called ‘Low Sunday’ because today’s liturgy is something of an anti-climax after the solemn Easter liturgy and celebrations a week ago. Some even joke that today is known as Low Sunday because this is the Sunday choirs take off after their hard work during Holy Week and Easter.

In some places, including parts of France and Germany, this day is called ‘Quasimodo Sunday.’ The Latin introit for the day begins: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes ...,’ ‘Like new-born infants ...,’ words from I Peter 2: 2 reminding newly-baptised Christians and all baptised members of the Church that we have been renewed, like new-born infants, in the waters of Baptism.

Quasimodo, the sad hero in Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), was abandoned as a new-born baby in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on this Sunday, and so was given the name Quasimodo by Archdeacon Claude Frollo who found him.

Perhaps Quasimodo and his love for Esméralda would make a wonderful sermon topic some day. It is a story of how people are often judged, and judged wrongly, because of their looks, their clothes and their social status. Quasimodo is despised because of the large, ugly wart on his face and his disfigured body, and he is ridiculed for his inarticulate speech and for his deafness. And Esméralda fails to appreciate the true beauty and undying nature of the love Quasimodo offers her.

Esméralda, for her part, despite her beauty, her compassion and her talents, is despised because of her ethnic background, her manners and her clothes: those who see her first see her as a gypsy, and so is side-lined and objectified. You might expect an anchorite to be a holy woman, but even Sister Gudele, figuratively representing the Church, curses the gypsy girl who is her true daughter, while Archdeacon Frollo’s all-consuming lust and desire for Esméralda run contrary to the ideals of his ministry and the mission of the Church.

Yet, there is a hint at the Easter theme in this story: Phoebus is not dead, Esméralda is put on trial and sentenced to death unjustly, and is saved from death by Quasimodo. In the end, despite its sadness, it is love and not death that has the final triumph in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Victor Hugo may be a little old-fashioned today, but Quasimodo and Esméralda have important lessons and values for us today. Beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, and seeing is not always believing. Quasimodo may appear to be ugly, but his love is pure and has an eternal quality. Esméralda appears to be beautiful, but those who are stirred to passion on seeing her put little value on love, respect and inner integrity.

In our society today, are we easily deceived by appearances?

Do we confuse what pleases me with beauty and with truth?

Do we allow those who have power to define the boundaries of trust and integrity merely to serve their own interests?

Are we are happy to live in a society where a fiscal lack of accountability on the part of politicians, and where obvious obfuscation are accepted instead of honest explanation or confession, as long as my future continues to look prosperous and I continue to be guaranteed a slice of the economic cake?

But appearances often deceive. Those who appear to be ugly are not so due to any fault or sinfulness, and they are often gentle and good-at-heart. Those who appear to be beautiful may threaten our personal confidence and security. And those who appear to guarantee economic, social or political stability may simply be serving their own needs and interests – as Esméralda finds out with Captain Phoebus and the jealous Archdeacon Frollo.

In life, how often do we fail to make the vital connection between appearances and deceptions on the one hand, and, on the other hand, between seeing and believing?

Quiet often, I think, this comes down to our different styles of learning and approaches to integrating information. How do you learn?

Think of how you go about learning yourself. Can you remember the latest gadget you bought? When you get a new car, or a new computer, do you first open the manual and read through the instructions carefully? Once you have read the handbook thoroughly and understand how all it works, you then get to work on your own.

Or perhaps you love buying flat-pack furniture, taking it home, and without ever looking at the instructions, figure out how to assemble it. Others, like me, get frustrated and end up with odd bits and pieces, but you see it as a challenge. Like a game of chess, you know that once all the pieces are placed correctly you are ready to move in and to win. The prize is that new coffee table or that new wardrobe.

And then there are those who prefer to have someone sit down beside them, show them how to do things, from switching on the new computer, to setting up passwords, folders and email accounts.

What sort of learners are Mary in last week’s Resurrection story, Thomas in this morning’s Gospel reading, and the other disciples in those readings?

For Mary, appearances could be deceiving. When she first saw the Risen Lord on Easter morning, she did not recognise him. She thought he was the gardener. But when he spoke to her she recognised his voice, and then wanted to hold on to him. From that moment of seeing and believing, she rushes off to tell the Disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord.’

Two of them, John the Beloved and Simon Peter, had already seen the empty tomb, but they failed to make the vital connection between seeing and believing. When they heard Mary’s testimony, they still failed to believe fully. They only believe when they see the Risen Lord standing among them, when he greets them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and when he shows them his pierced hands and side.

They had to see and to hear, they had to have the Master stand over them in their presence, before they could believe.

But Thomas the Twin, or Thomas Didymus, is missing from the group on that occasion. He has not seen and so he refuses to believe.

We can never be quite sure about Saint Thomas in this Gospel. After the death of Lazarus, he shows that he has no idea of the real meaning of death and resurrection when he suggests that the disciples should go to Bethany with Jesus: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11: 16). And while Saint Thomas saw the raising of Lazarus, what did he believe in? Could seeing ever be enough for a doubting Thomas to believe?

At the Last Supper, despite assurances from Christ, Thomas protests that he does not know what is happening (John 14: 5). He has been with Christ for three years, and still he does not believe or understand. Seeing and explanations are not enough for him.

On the first Easter Day, the Disciples locked themselves away out of fear. But where is Thomas? Is he fearless? Or is he foolish?

For a full week, Thomas is absent and does not join in the Easter experience of the remaining disciples. When they tell him what has happened, Thomas refuses to accept their stories of the resurrection. For him hearing, even seeing, are not enough.

Thomas wants to see, hear and touch. He wants to use all his learning faculties before he can believe this story. See, hear and touch – if they had manuals then as we now have, I’m sure Thomas would have demanded a manual on the resurrection too.

His method of learning is to use all the different available approaches. He has heard, but he wants to see. When he sees, he wants to touch … he demands not only to touch the Risen Jesus, but to touch his wounds too before being convinced.

And so for a second time within eight days, Christ came and stood among his disciples, and said: ‘Peace be with you.’

Do you recall how Mary was asked in the garden on Easter morning not to cling on to Christ? So why then is Thomas invited to touch him in the most intimate way? He is told to place his finger in Christ’s wounded hands and his hand in Christ’s pierced side.

Caravaggio has depicted this scene in his painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Yet we are never told whether Thomas actually touched those wounds. All we are told is that once he has seen the Risen Christ, Thomas simply professes his faith in Jesus: ‘My Lord and my God!’

In that moment, we hear the first expression of faith in the two natures of Christ, that he is both divine and human. For all his doubts, Thomas provides us with an exquisite summary of the apostolic faith.

Too often, perhaps, we talk about ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Instead, we might better call him ‘Believing Thomas.’ His doubting led him to question. But his questioning led to listening. And when he heard, he saw, perhaps he even touched. Whatever he did, he learned in his own way, and he came not only to faith but faith that for this first time was expressed in that eloquent yet succinct acknowledgment of Christ as both ‘My Lord and My God.’

Too often, in this world, we are deceived easily by the words of others and deceived by what they want us to see. Seeing is not always believing today. Hearing does not always mean we have heard the truth, as we know in Irish life and politics today. It is easy to deceive and to be deceived by a good presentation and by clever words.

Too often, we accept or judge people by their appearances, and we are easily deceived by the words of others because of their office or their privilege. But there are times when our faith, however simple or sophisticated, must lead us to ask appropriate questions, not to take everything for granted, and not to confuse what looks like being in our own interests with real beauty and truth.

May all our thoughts, all our prayers and all our deeds be + in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Quasimodo Sunday’ takes its name from the Latin introit ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes ...,’ ‘Like new-born infants ...’

Collect:

Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
Grant us so to put away the leaven
of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Castletown Church, Co Limerick, on Sunday 23 April 2017, the Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday).