On the evening of the first Lord’s Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas was absent. The other disciples were gathered together when Jesus came and stood among them displaying his nail pierced hands and feet and speaking “Peace” to them, but Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24). It wasn’t until the following first day of the week that Thomas would have the benefit of seeing Jesus. Now, we don’t know why he was absent. Matthew Henry suggests, “Perhaps it was Thomas’s unhappiness that he was absent–either he was not well, or had not notice; or perhaps it was his sin and folly–either he was diverted by business or company, which he preferred before this opportunity, or he didn’t come for fear of the Jews; and he called that his prudence and caution which was his cowardice.” Whatever his reason was–and we don’t know–we do know that because he was not gathered with the disciples he neither shared in their joy or the blessing of meeting with the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Sadly, Thomas’s experience is all too often the experience of many Christians who, for whatever reasons, absent themselves from the gathering of saints on the Lord’s Day. No, Jesus isn’t with his people physically in public worship–he can’t be, he has ascended to heaven where he must remain until his bodily return. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t present. He is! Have you ever thought about that? In a unique way that isn’t necessarily true of our private and individual lives, Jesus is present in public worship. He is present in the preaching of the Word. The Apostle Paul said to the Galatians, who had neither seen or been with Jesus during his earthly ministry, that when they heard by faith “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). He is present in the Lord’s Supper. Again, not physically, but he is really and spiritually present. That’s why Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Our baptism is a baptism into his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4). Even in our praises God is present for he is “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3), and the author of Hebrews writes that it is Jesus who says, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Hebrews 2:12). Jesus is present with his people and every time we gather we get to joyfully meet with our resurrected Lord.
If that’s true why do we have so many like Thomas? I’ve sometimes wondered what that week must have been like for Thomas. Was his week filled with unbelief and doubt and the sins that accompany those? Was he filled with disappointment and frustration that he had not witnessed what the other disciples had? Perhaps he was even a little envious that he had not seen the risen Lord, he had missed Jesus. Whatever his week may have been like, I can’t imagine it was a very good one. I don’t want to shame anyone, I just want to emphasize the immense blessing you lose when you’re absent from the gathering together of Jesus’ people on the Lord’s Day. You’re not missing another sermon–you’re missing Jesus. You’re not missing some bread and wine–you’re missing Jesus. You’re not missing a few more songs–you’re missing Jesus.