No hymn for Thomas?

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 (Lectionary, Sunday 7 April 2013),I had to think about the hymns that best reflected his experience and what we may learn from it.

© 2013, a division of Getty Images

So 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.

Categories: Exploring themes, Worship Resources.

5 Responses to No hymn for Thomas?

  1. David Hamflett says:

    There is a hymn about Thomas in ‘Hymns and Psalms’, number 205 ‘O sons and daughters, let us sing’ by Jean Tisserand (d 1494) translated by John Mason Neale and others. If a more well known tune is needed for it rather than the one set in HP then either Vulpius (HP 191 – lively) or Victory (HP 214 – more reflective) fit perfectly well, so long as one omits the opening three alleuias.
    For a very different take, there is John Bell and Graham Maule’s hymn ‘Don’t tell me of a faith that fears’ (‘The Sorrow’) in the ‘Enemy of Apathy’ and ‘Love and Anger’ collections (Wild Goose Publications). Notes for it in ‘Enemy of Apathy’ say: ‘A protest song about bogus religion might well suit the Sunday after Easter, when Jesus appeared to thomas. Now, as then, people should be able to cry for a faith which is real and relevant …’

  2. Piers Nash-Williams says:

    He gets a mention in “Adoro te devote, latens Deitas” (“I devoutly adore you, O hidden deity”) – a Eucharisitc hymn written by St Thomas Aquinas, and therefore in the various translations of it. My favourite is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ version, which includes the verse:

    I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
    But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
    Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
    Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

    You can see more about this hymn (including other poetic translations) on Wikipedia:

  3. Editor says:

    Rachel Parkinson writes:

    “In light of the paucity of ‘Thomas’ hymns I thought that StF 655 “We cannot measure how you heal” had lots of oblique references which seemed to fit…the uniting of faith and doubt; the bloodied hands and the reference to peace.”

  4. Tom Pardy says:

    For suitable hymns for Thomas, how about “These things did Thomas count” which is #649 in Together in Song, published by the Australian Hymnbook Committee (HarperCollins Religious) and used widely within Australia? Another possibility would be “Faith will not grow from words alone”, which is #691 in the same hymnbook.

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