St. Thomas is remembered most often for his doubting of Jesus' resurrection. Doubting Thomas has become a phrase we use often when we speak of not being able to believe something that seems outside of our experience. He has given hope, down through the ages, to people who have doubted the resurrection, but want to believe. The church, however, has honored Thomas for much more than that. In the Gospels, Thomas is one of the top tier of disciples who asks questions and furthers our understanding of the kingdom of God. The Gospel of John features him more than the synoptics. His resolution to follow Jesus to his own death is powerful. When he hears that Jesus is going to return to Bethany, near Jerusalem, to be with Mary and Martha, and heal--raise up Lazarus--we see a sign of faithfulness, not doubt. His question "How can we know the way?" during Jesus discourses leads Jesus to announce he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:5-6). And when he is convinced that Jesus has risen after he has seen his wounds, Thomas confesses that Jesus is "My Lord and my God!" He is the first in the Gospel to say Jesus is God.
John gives us a rich picture of faith in Thomas' comments, from questions to doubt, to a rousing confession of faith. The story of his mission to India where he is patron saint among Christians shows us the scope of his work in the ancient world. He is said to have gone to India and landed in Muziris (Cranganore) in 52 AD. He worked there until his martyrdom in Mylapore in 72 AD. The Thomas tradition in India says Thomas built seven churches, baptizing families whose history still points back to Thomas. Whether or not one believes these accounts, they go way back into antiquity: Christian missionaries of later eras found evidence of this tradition when they arrived in India. Other accounts say he went as far as Indonesia and maybe even China. The stories of his travels on his mission to preach Christ to the world are astonishing, and a witness to his witness. Given how archeologists continue to find evidence for events long consigned to legend by 19th century skeptics, I am inclined to believe many of these accounts. They show how Thomas, transformed by his faith, had the courage and grit to do as Jesus commanded when he gave the great commission to go unto the uttermost parts of the earth to teach and preach his gospel. His work apparently was so successful it threatened the establishment in India. Hindu priests, on the command of the king, using a sword, assassinated him so his emblems are the sword and a ruler, for he was a builder. His relics can be found in the Thomas Basilica in Ortona, Italy.
This hymn focuses on Thomas' faith, not his doubt. As Thomas confessed, Christ is God, he is confessing Christ is our Head as the epistle lesson for the Feast of St. Thomas has it. (Ephesians 4:11-16) "We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." This confession is in line with Thomas' life as a missionary to the farthest parts of the world where his witness is still honored and remembered. This is from my collection of hymns on the martyrs and other festivals of faith not quite in the regular Sundays of the year.