Maybe it was just too painful to be there with the rest of them. He was just too sad, and it hurt too much to be reminded of the time they had spent together with Jesus. Perhaps he was ashamed of how they had fled at the onset of the Passion, or too ashamed of himself to be seen by anyone else. He may have been in shock at what had happened, and wanted to be left alone with his thoughts, to sort them out and get his head on straight. We aren’t told the reasons why he wasn’t there.
Was he braver than the other disciples? Or was he hiding somewhere else, just as frightened as the rest of them? Or, was he out in the open, perhaps even hoping to get himself arrested, to follow after Jesus into death, as he had said when they returned to Judea after Lazarus had died?
Whatever his purpose, intentions, or excuses may have been, he wasn’t where he should have been. He wasn’t where the disciples of Jesus were.
It is just as foolish to look for Jesus where He is not to be found, as it is to doubt and deny Him where He does reveal and give Himself to His disciples. It is all the more foolish not to look for Him at all. No matter whether you proceed in self-confidence and bravado or in faithless despair.
But, that you not be left to your own devices, lost and alone, it is the ministry of the Holy Gospel to testify to the Truth, and to call you, by way of repentance, to the place where Jesus is found — or, to say it better, to the place where He finds you. So that you may believe and have life in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, through His forgiveness of your sins and His gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is the Word of Christ, the preaching of His Gospel, in particular, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, that raises you from death to life; that removes your fear and replaces it with peace; that brings you from deep sadness to great joy; that changes your doubts and terrible uncertainty into confidence and courage; that converts you from false belief to faith.
Genuine faith in the genuine Christ makes all the difference in this world, and also for the next. But what is the content of such faith? It is not simply that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a real person; nor simply that He was crucified, dead, and buried; nor even simply that He rose from the dead. It includes and requires all of those basic historical facts, to be sure. But genuine faith in Christ believes and trusts that He is the very Son of God, sent by the Father in the flesh; that He is your Lord and your God, who was crucified for the forgiveness of your sins, and raised up by the Father as your Righteousness forevermore; and that He is here for you, in and with His Word of the Gospel, and with His true Body and true Blood, given and poured out for your salvation.
What such faith receives and clings to is the Lord your God Himself in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, in Christ’s Word of forgiveness.
This is the true faith, which you need the most, upon which everything else depends, as it depends upon Christ Jesus. By such faith you live in Him, as He Himself is risen from the dead; you have Peace with God, instead of anxiety and dread; real joy instead of constant sorrow and depression.
And by such faith, you confess the Name of Christ, with which you have been named in Baptism; you worship and adore Him as the Lord your God; and you gladly obey His commandments, because you have a new and living hope in Him, in His Resurrection from the dead.
If faith is first of all an active passivity, which hears, receives, and trusts in God, it is also then a busy and active thing, which lives and works to the Glory of His Name. In fact, it is the nature of faith to live, and it is only by faith that you do live; because Life itself is found only with God, by the gift of His Word and Holy Spirit, in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.
If you would have Life, it is yours by faith in Christ. And as you have such faith, so do you live.
The most urgent and most necessary thing — honestly, the only thing that finally matters at all — is that you be found in the Body of Christ Jesus, anointed and filled by His Holy Spirit. Nothing else matters; leastwise, nothing else has any real meaning or lasting purpose outside of the Body of Christ. Apart from Him, devoid of His Spirit, you have no life and no salvation, but only doubt and despair, death and damnation; even if, or all the more, if you manage to fool yourself awhile.
So the big and most compelling questions are: Where and how do you find Him and find yourself in Him? How shall you come to faith in Him, and so live the Life which is with God in Christ?
It is by the Spirit of Christ Jesus that you have such faith and life in Him; by the Holy Spirit who is actively present and at work in the preaching and ministry of those whom Christ has sent in His Name to serve and care for His Church with His Gospel.
By the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit is given and bestowed upon you with His forgiveness of all your sins. You are recreated by this Spirit of God, who breathes in you by the Word of the Gospel; and you are granted newness of life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, because your wounds of body and soul are healed by His wounds, by the fruits of His Cross and Passion.
Hear and heed the Holy Scriptures, and long for the pure Spiritual Milk of the Lord’s Word. Like a newborn baby, drink deeply from the fountain of Life, here at the Lord’s Altar, where He opens up His wounded hands and side to you. Call upon His Holy Name, as He has called you by His Name in your one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and again and again in Holy Absolution.
Search for the Lord and His strength, and seek His face always, in His Holy Covenant, which He has established forever. Remember what He has done and said, as He remembers you in mercy; as He speaks His Word of Peace, which does and gives what He says; and as He gives to you His Body and pours out for you the Cup, which is the New Covenant in His Blood.
Here is where the disciples of Jesus are; for here is where He comes and takes His stand and gives Himself to you with tender mercy and compassion, with patience for your doubts and fears and failings, and with forgiveness for all your sins. Here is where He gives you His Body to eat, that you may belong to His Body, and abide in Him by faith, in body and soul, unto life everlasting.
Apart from Christ, outside of His Body, sins are retained, and you are left in the deadly sorrow and devastating loneliness of unbelief. But here, in the Divine Service, you receive the eyewitness testimony of the Holy Apostles, who saw the crucified and risen Lord and ate and drank with Him. And by their Word, by their proclamation of His death, and by their confession of His Resurrection from the dead — though you cannot see Him, you believe Him, and you love Him; you live in Him by faith, and you rejoice in His salvation, to the praise and glory and honor of His sacred Name.
So it is, by the Word of His Apostles, that the Lord grants you repentance and new birth in His own Cross and Resurrection. Day by day, you die with Him, and you are born again through the rebirth of His Resurrection, unto newness of life and new hope. You shall not be put to shame. Certainly not by Christ, who comes to you here to speak His Peace and Joy and Holy Spirit into your ears, and into your body and soul. So faithful is He, that the trying and testing of your faith shall not be permitted to rob you of your hope, but shall only be allowed to purify and strengthen your faith, hope, and love in this Lord Jesus Christ, unto the resurrection of your body and eternal life.
Reach here your hand and see. Lay hold of the Body of Christ and believe. Take up the Cup of Salvation, and call on the Name of the Lord; for everyone who calls on Him shall be saved.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.