Eye of God window

The gates of hell shall not prevail

T S Elliott writes in one of his lesser known poems:

‘There shall always be the Church and the World,
And the heart of man
Shivering and fluttering between them choosing and chosen,
Valiant, ignoble, dark, and full of light
Swinging between hell gate and heaven gate
And the gates of hell shall not prevail.’

It’s a wonderful description of our hearts and the predicament of being human, swinging this way and that, described by Elliott as valiant, ignoble, dark, and full of light. What a contradiction we are! But we’re not without hope since, as Elliott asserts at the end there, the gates of hell shall not prevail.

Our first reading from the little known Hebrew prophet Habbakuk is equally not without hope. Habbakuk uses the image of a watchman, standing at their watch-post, looking for signs of the coming dawn. Habbakuk is given an assurance that the dawn will come, there is still a vision for the appointed time, he asserts – yes it may seem to be delayed, but wait – it will surely come!

The importance of hope cannot be overestimated.

Without it we can’t move beyond the immediate surviving of day to day. Without hope any directed and sustained effort becomes impossible.

In religious art, hope is depicted as an anchor, because elsewhere in scripture hope is referred to ‘as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure’.

You don’t have to know much about ships and boats to know the importance of an anchor holding, particularly during a storm – that’s how important hope is to us particularly when the waves crash across our bows – that’s something of what hope gives to us, ‘an anchor for our lives, safe and secure’.

Today we join with the whole Church to remember and give thanks for Saint Thomas whose particular day every year falls on 3rd July. And Saint Thomas, Doubting Thomas as we often call him, captures the human predicament when he says:

‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my
finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not

This week we’ve learnt just how quickly things can change in a week! And for Thomas too things changed dramatically in a week!

Just a week after his assertion of doubt, on his lips was found the most profound expression of Christian faith in the whole New Testament. We heard him say to the risen Christ:

‘My Lord and my God!’

He too learnt that the gates of hell shall not prevail.

That’s why hope is one of the three qualities, alongside faith and love that Saint Paul extols in his famous passage to the Corinthian Church. These qualities are the foundation stones on which we build our Christian lives – faith, hope and love.

And it was faith, hope and love that was kindled in the heart of Saint Thomas when he encountered the risen Christ and invited to put his fingers and hands in the wounds of the nails and spear.

May those same qualities of faith, hope and love be kindled in our hearts too: for the gates of hell shall not prevail.