“Thomas, one of the twelve, Was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:24
Growing up in a Bible-believing family, I was well taught from earliest childhood the Bible stories that are most well-known. “Doubting Thomas” was one of those stories, and the focus was normally to not doubt the stories of Jesus. Thomas’ story was usually presented as an example of the need to believe all that the Bible teaches us, without the unfortunate doubts that Thomas expressed.
But revisiting that ancient story recently, I am seeing it in a different light, and connecting to it in a new way.
The followers of Jesus had experienced their world completely blowing up, with the horrific crucifixion, His death and burial outside of Jerusalem during their high holiday of Passover. Not only were they thrown into their deepest experience of trauma and grief, but they feared for their own lives, being the most closely-connected circle of followers of the Crucified Jesus. Quietly gathering under the cover of evening’s darkness, there was fear, turmoil, incredible trauma and sadness shared among them.
Within circles of grief, there are those who are more aware of practical needs than others. They are the ones who will be preparing a meal . . . gathering extra plates and cushions, making coffee for everyone, running to the local market, and simply doing the dishes. They do it quietly, those un-planned acts of kindness that are their way of loving well.
When my husband died, in those first days I was staying at my son’s home with family gathered all around. A knock at the door signaled the presence of one of my most loved and respected ministry leaders and role-models. Stuart and Jill Briscoe. Following a precious time of loving, sweet conversations, I had to briefly turn attention to something else. When I returned to my friends, I found Stuart, having donned an apron, washing the huge pile of dishes that had accumulated in the large kitchen sink. He was simply living out something of which he often spoke: The Ministry of Presence. I will never forget that picture in my mind.
I suspect that Thomas may have been practicing that attitude. He seems to have been quietly serving the larger group . . . going out to handle practical needs while the others were gathering together to talk . . . in shock, grief, and a need to simply “be together.” So Thomas had missed the experience of the rest of his friends, that of Jesus’ visitation to their “hiding place.”
But Jesus did come, and He gave that Moment to Thomas. Very personally. Intimately. Without criticism or rebuke. Whatever Thomas’ reason for being out of the gathering place, we can only imagine. But Jesus gave him a very personal Moment that probably set the course for the rest of Thomas’ life. Jesus invited Thomas to physically touch the crucifixion wounds. No rebuke. There was no hint of shame for having missed the moment that “everybody else” experienced. Jesus gave him that personal Moment…with an intimacy not noted with any of the others. And Thomas spent the rest of his life spreading the Good News he had experienced to his world. . . all the way to us today.
Our Savior sees our sorrows and loss. He knows our hearts. And He tenderly gives us Moments with Him that will linger on forever.