Missing the Celebration of Easter

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.             John 20:24

A fellow was talking about how he needed to take a trip to see family in BC, and with the snow that was threatened for Friday and Saturday, he just wasn’t looking forward to the drive.  Yet it was necessary because of the occasion that he had to attend.

You can’t live in this country for very long without experiencing this kind of situation. In surprisingly quick order, snow can shut down an airport.  Travelers are stranded probably for at least a night before any flights would get in or out.  Business people would miss business meetings.  Perhaps vacation plans would suddenly be thrown into disarray.

You want to be someplace, perhaps it was a family Christmas party or some other such joyous occasion, and then weather steps in and you can’t go.  You know there is celebration, but you aren’t part of it.  The party goes on, with family that you wanted to see again, perhaps some friendships to renew, yet all of this you miss.  You know the empty hollow feeling of just not being part of the joy and fellowship of that time.

Thomas would understand very well those kinds of feelings.  His situation was worse.  It was not weather that was preventing him from joining them, it was his own disbelief.  All he had ever known throughout his life was that when death came calling, it was final.  There was no more to the story.  You had to learn to live with the grief and then go on to whatever the future would hold.

Why wasn’t Thomas with the other disciples that significant Easter evening?  We don’t really know.  Perhaps he was one of those individuals that goes very private when faced with such intense feelings.  The enormity of the events of the last days, the spiritual hopes that were destroyed, the emotional ties with the Lord he loved were torn away – perhaps he felt he just needed to spend some time alone to regain his feet under him.  Perhaps it brought to mind other deaths he had experienced and he just didn’t need more commotion around him.

And so Jesus came – and Thomas missed Him.  The rest of the disciples could celebrate the reunion, and meanwhile Thomas was stuck at the Calgary airport waiting for the next available flight.

When John wrote his Gospel, he really doesn’t say much about that week in between.  Perhaps in the economy of words, when John writes, “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!”, this represents a week of the other disciples speaking to Thomas and encouraging him.  I would like to think that that was the case, that their proclamation was not just a one-time information session, but rather enough discussion and encouragement which made Thomas curious enough to be with them the next Sunday evening.

Really when one thinks of evangelism, that is often the way it is.  In many instances it is a process of raising the curiosity level to such a point, that the other person just wants to check out why these people are celebrating when they really ought to be mourning, that they express joy rather than hopelessness.

How hard it must have been for Thomas, and how very isolated he must have felt.  I am sure that he knew just how much John, Peter, and the others must have loved their Lord.  I’m sure he knew how profoundly they had been affected by the events on Maundy Thursday night and Good Friday.  Peter had denied his Master and had wept bitterly about it.  John was apparently there at the trial at the High Priest’s, and perhaps was the one who let Peter in into the infamous courtyard.  I imagine he must have felt some guilt for Peter’s fall, and at the same time had watched the utter injustice of the condemnation of Jesus.

Thomas knew of the disciples running like rabbits from the scene of the capture, the absolute disappointment that each must have felt at running out on Jesus during His time of greatest need, just after they said they never would.

He had seen the thorough devastation that marked the disciples when they met Friday night and grieved together during Saturday.  I could easily see him being simply overwhelmed by the grief, the despair, the self-disappointment.  He knew they had loved Jesus.  Yet why were they now celebrating?  How could they celebrate?  How easily he could have just written them off as insane.

Yet I think that in John’s economy of writing, the other disciples cared too much for Thomas to let him remain so miserable.  Imagine their frustration, though.  They had experienced the risen Jesus.  They were not argued into that position, it was not force-of-debate which had brought them to this conclusion.  It was that they had actually encountered the risen Jesus!
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Imagine their helplessness – in fact, it is something that we really can identify with.  How many times have you wished so desperately to show the Good News to someone who really vehemently needed to discover the real Jesus, and yet you just seemed unable to cross the barrier for that person to really think that Jesus would actually be alive.  As with Thomas, this is not something that can be accomplished by argument and words.  Yet you want to do something.

I think that two things had to occur within the disciples:  The first was that they had to depend on the Lord Jesus – already! – to bridge the gap which they could not bridge.  He had bridged that gap for them, in His appearances to the women, to the two on the road to Emmaus, and to the disciples huddled behind locked doors and windows.  They had had their view of death and life shaken up, coming to terms with the truth of the Salvation events, and they faced the realization that Jesus would have to do this also for Thomas.

The second is that they had to also realize that in spite of Thomas’ disbelief, they could not afford to stop celebrating the resurrection.  They could not allow Thomas’ attitude to infect their response to what the Lord had done.  They had enormous reason to celebrate, wonderful reason to celebrate, extraordinary reason to celebrate – that death was defeated, that sin had an answer, and that Satan was stripped of his greatest tool of fear.  All the wonders of God’s salvation had become reality.  They were just starting on a road of realization that would take them the rest of their lives to discover – to discover all the ramifications of what Jesus had accomplished.

And it was also important for Thomas that they didn’t stop celebrating.  I am sure that he just could not get over the absolute contrast between what ought to be and what was.  Where was the expected devastation?  Instead the disciples were confident!  They ought to be mourning, and yet they were barely containable in their joy.  I’m sure that in his misery, he wanted them to stop being so happy because it made his own grief all the more stark, and yet it also made him yearn for whatever they had which was so much better than his pain.

And so he was there when the rest of the disciples where meeting on the next Sunday evening.  Thomas needed the encounter, and Jesus came to do what only the Resurrection Himself could do for Thomas.

This is a very good and necessary account for us to look at.  How many times do we feel like either Thomas, or the disciples trying to deal with Thomas?    There are times when we too can be like Thomas, so overwhelmed by grief, misery, and the despair of the world around us.  Things can become so very bleak, sometimes as rapidly as it must have been for Thomas, who went from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the terror of Maundy Thursday, to the despair of Good Friday – and it was only in a matter of days.

But then also like the disciples we too have encountered Jesus, He has made His mark in our lives; so now when we see people in such great need of Jesus, how terribly frustrated we feel.  If only we could argue them into the Kingdom of God, if only we could argue them into the joy of the resurrection!  Yet those are the very things which make us aware of how helpless we can feel.

We also have two responsibilities in this case.  The first is that the celebration must go on.  We cannot allow the celebration to be pulled down by the misery of the non-believer.  After all, the celebration is worthwhile – God deserves the response of joy and gratitude for what He has done.  We need this time to really pause in our lives to again be impressed with all which Jesus has done, which affects every part of our lives.  This is not just forgiveness, but a confidence as we face all the distresses of human life; there is a jubilation in knowing that in the end, there is nothing which can rob us of the absolute kingship of Jesus over all things.

Truly, the celebration is necessary also because that is what the others need to see as well.  Amid the emptiness and the despair which lies in the background of the world, amid the frustration and seeming aimlessness of daily life, amid tragedy and loss, what a powerful thing it is to find God’s People who have such reason to rejoice and praise their God and Redeemer.

The second responsibility is that we must depend on the Lord to bridge the gap which we cannot cross.  The others have to encounter Jesus for themselves.  Jesus came for Thomas, He came for the two on the road to Emmaus, He came for the women at the tomb, and He must come for these people in our lives as well.

That’s why Jesus comes today to encounter us yet again.  He is here because two or three are gathered in His Name.  He is here because this is His Body and His Blood.  He is here because He is the Word made flesh.  He is here because you are just as important to Him as Thomas is, and He wants you also to know what it means that He is alive, that death has no more power, and that He does indeed rule all things, even death.  He comes to remind us that He is here to bridge those gaps in others which are beyond our ability, and to even bridge the gaps in us where we still have need for His presence.

Come therefore to the place where Jesus is to be found – because He said He would be here.  Come and see the marvelous power of the resurrection at work.  In spite of the times when, like the disciples, we are frustrated then others can’t see the risen Savior, don’t stop celebrating that Jesus is indeed alive, and it all has such great and wonderful ramifications for us.  And also come to meet the Lord Who is willing to come here to us to let us know for sure that all His accomplished work and promises are real and He fulfills them with resurrection power.  So now come!

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