Do you have a favourite biblical character or Christian saint? If so, what hymn do you think best describes their experience or what we may have to learn from him and her? Laurence Wareing describes his search for hymns about a favourite disciple of his – Thomas.
Since this article was written, StF+ has received for publication three further Thomas-friendly hymns, by Adrian Low (When our futures are uncertain), Andrew Pratt (What peace is there for tarnished lives) and Heather Gallagher (Like Thomas).
“When Thomas’ heart was hurt and grieved,
then Jesus’ wounds his doubt relieved”
This verse of When Easter to the dark world came (StF 316) is the only direct reference in Singing the Faith to Jesus’ disciple Thomas, often referred to as “Doubting Thomas”. I’m sorry about that, because I have a particular fondness for Thomas – just as many others also have a “favourite” biblical character or saint.
Indeed I have found very few texts that speak directly of Thomas, though the Amercian writer Edith Sinclair Downing does begin one hymn with the acknowledgement: “How often we, like Thomas, need proof before we trust.” A notable exception is Marjorie Dobson's Safe, locked inside that upper room, which we are pleased to have published here on StF+ and in which Marjorie makes the connection between the disciples' post-resurrection fear and the transforming events of Pentecost.
Nevertheless, though we do sing about saints in general – more often in the sense of good and inspirational Christian men and women – generally speaking, we don’t explore the example of Thomas or many of the other named apostles and saints.
So when I came to compiling suggested hymns to accompany the story of Thomas, I had to think about the hymns that best reflected his experience and what we may learn from it.
There is This joyful Eastertide (StF 314), which encourages us to “be not unbelieving” and focuses on the failure of death to imprison or destroy “our Easter joy”. Empty, broken, here I stand seems to me to echo the desolation that all the disciples, Thomas included, must have felt following the shocking events of Good Friday – a theme also described in Christ has risen while earth slumbers:
Christ has risen to companion
former friends who fear the night,
sensing loss and limitation
where their faith has once burned bright. (v.3)
(In fact that verse goes on to speak of the two disciples who met the risen Jesus on the Emmaus Road.)
Perhaps it is Charles Wesley’s sense of being almost overwhelmed by God’s death-defeating love (“What shall I do my God to love, / my loving God to praise?”, StF 436) that returns us most closely to the story of Thomas, and to his powerful declaration of faith and recognition: “My Lord and my God!”
So what hymn would you choose to reflect the life or message of a biblical character or saint who speaks particularly to you? Let us know – and tell us about hymns we may not have come across.