Jesus contemplates his arrest and execution when he speaks these words. It is not what we would expect: this idea of honor and elevation through suffering. Everyone abhors humiliation, pain and death. Jesus invites us into the great mystery. It is God's glory that he goes to such lengths on our account. He gives himself to us and for us. Our eternal gain is predicated on his loss. This is God's glory. His love is that amazing.
What could possibly be grounds for rejoicing in a circumstance of 'grief and all kinds of trials.' The answer precedes this verse: Jesus is raised from the dead. as Messianic King his people participate in his victory. The worst possible suffering is therefore diluted and 'after a little while,' defeated.
Christ's return from the dead was not just a change in his personal fortunes. His resurrection contains everyone else's. Like Adam, Jesus is the bearer of all humanity. God rebirths the world in him. Peter is jubilant because he sees that Christ--and his people have crossed into an existence beyond the reach of death; a 'living hope!'
We want God to travel at our speed. We want him to get his work done within our short attention span. However it is reassuring to know that though our hopes are not yet completed, we have not fallen out of God's intentions. God will realize his dream; then we will realize ours.
The first disciples did see Jesus and knew him personally after the crucifixion. By means of their remembrance and reports of their encounter, it has been possible for millions since to come to know him. Through the agency of his Spirit we too learn to love him, to adopt his ways and values, trust him and participate in an exuberance beyond words.
Jesus' 'awayness' from his disciples is not his indifference to them. Their interests are being served. Christ's apparent absence anticipates a future that includes us. God has made us for himself. He desires our company, and he will have it.
Men and women of faith who walked the earth in ages past were serving us as well as their contemporaries. Our apprehension of God is not self-generated. Long ago, God was building into human lives, ideas, convictions and anticipations which would bless posterity. We also are included in God's intergenerational design. Our faith, hope and love will enrich us and our community now, and go on to benefit lives yet unborn.
Thomas had been hanging around Jesus for quite a while but didn't 'really' know him. Only later did the disciples realize the true identity of their friend. It is possible to be acquainted with Jesus and still not see God revealed in him. All that we can, or need to know of God, is in Jesus. And what a wonderful person God is!
The universe often seems indifferent and mean. There are glimpses of generosity and kindness, but these seem like a trick to get our hopes up before dashing them again. To encounter Jesus is to meet unequivocal goodness--milk for nurture and flourishing; salvation to grow in.
The metaphor is rich and deep with many layers. The world thinks poorly of Christ but his are the values of divinity--he is precious to God. God's enterprise begins with Christ, is founded on him, and extends from him, throughout the world in those who 'come to him.' Christ and his people are the 'house' God builds for himself in the world, to be in. As living stones we are material that God is using to bless others.