Life-Giving Acts

Acts 9:36-43

Yellow. White. Crimson. Blue.

No matter what color she picked, Tabitha made the most beautiful clothes.  When she had taken the time to get to know the widows in her neighborhood, she had discovered that many of them struggled to find food to eat, never mind the added challenge of finding decent clothes to wear.  Some of their garments hung over their shoulders by only threads.

No one should live like that, Tabitha had thought to herself.  She had had the means – I don’t know how, it must have been through a son or a brother-in-law – and so she became a spinner and a weaver for her community.  As she wove each piece of clothing, she would bring the person to mind, thinking to herself, well, this person would appreciate the cool touch of linen, or the warmth of the scratchy wool, or the comforting tones of a light blue garment.

Tabitha became a weaver because she knew firsthand what those other widows had been through.  When her own husband had died, she hadn’t known what to do.  Sadness and loneliness had filled her. Yet, in a way it had also broken open her heart, because she found herself having so much more compassion for the widows and widowers around her.  And so she poured everything into making clothes, into her desire to help others who were going through the same thing.  In the process, somehow, she had become more than just a spinner and a weaver …

Whereas, before, Tabitha would sit at home alone, pondering how she could fill the hours and ease the loneliness; now, the women came streaming in, to talk, to ask how she was doing, to keep her company as she wove.  In their time together, they shared both their struggles and their celebrations … they prayed together … they wrestled together with their new faith in this Jesus.  They wondered aloud: How do you understand the truth of things like resurrection?

Sure, everyone went around talking about eternal life, or abundant life, or life made new … but what did that even mean?  More than anything, they wanted to know.   They had recently heard the story of Saul who was now Paul – who had gotten knocked to the ground, seen light and had a come-to-Jesus moment. Paul had gone from being one of the most well-known antagonists of the Jesus movement to being one of its champions.

The women were in awe of his transformation; they kept talking about it over and over again. … what they didn’t get was – why did his experience seem so … easy …. So instantaneous?  And why did their faith feel like such a struggle sometimes?

In the midst of one of these conversations, Tabitha, the pillar of their community, suddenly got sick, really sick.  The widows tried to care for her but there was nothing they could do and she died.  Their leader, who had so lovingly tended and directed them, was gone.

“What will we do?” The widows wondered aloud.  In that moment, they understood that death is not just the end of physical life, but it is the spiritual end of hope.  It comes not only when people we love pass away but in the moments when say – this relationship is over, or my life of faith is over or a time of happiness will never return.  It comes in those moment when our hope dies and we see no way forward.

And yet, in that moment of despair, the women recalled that that was exactly how they were felt when Tabitha had come to them.  They thought they were all alone and then Tabitha had come, and sat with them in the mist of their pain and they had sat with her in hers.  She had spun fibers of compassion and, through her stories of Jesus, had woven healing into their lives … she had taught them that we experience God’s love in our best moments and in our worst.

Maybe, they thought to themselves, resurrection and healing doesn’t always come with bright lights and the voice of Jesus booming from the heavens; maybe it also in comes in the midst of ordinary life in the form of beautiful clothing woven with love, in the form of companionship during a grief, in the form of prayers in places of both joy and struggle.

As the women thought about it, their minds came back to the story of Paul, who before his transformation was called Saul.  Originally, Saul thought he knew how his story would end.  Filled with hatred for those who were religiously different than him, Saul breathed threats and murder for his fellow Jews who believed that Jesus was God-in-the-flesh.  Even the widows had feared him.  They had known that Jesus taught that we should “love everyone” and “pray for our enemies” but surely, they thought, Jesus would make an exception for Saul.

And then, and then, to this man, to their enemy (!), Jesus had appeared and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Blinded by the light, Saul squinted upward, asking: “Who are you?”

The voice responded, “I am Jesus who you are persecuting.  But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

And so Saul’s companions, led Saul, who was now blind, to Damascus.

Maybe, the widows thought, maybe that conversation was only one part of Saul’s resurrection journey.  Maybe Saul’s transformation wasn’t just about that voice or that light but also about that moment afterward when Jesus called a nearby Jesus-follower, Ananias, to go and seek Saul out and lay hands on him so that Saul could see and Ananias didn’t want to go. Ananias was afraid because, well it was Saul, and if Jesus made exceptions to the commandment to love your neighbor, Saul would have certainly been included.

But the thing about God is, that God calls us to love everyone, and so Ananias got up and went to see Saul and, in that moment that Ananais showed up, he reached out and touched Saul and called him brother.

When Ananias had saw a dead end, or a hopeless case, God had seen the potential for new life.  The act of forgiveness and reconciliation was so powerful that the scales from Saul’s eyes came tumbling off along with Paul’s old, antagonist way of being.  Paul’s heart softened, opening to God’s grace and mercy, and Paul had become a vibrant Jesus-follower.  And it had happened through the ordinary act of calling someone brother.

By recalling Paul’s story, the women realize that resurrection does not come in one big flashy act, but rather in many small life-giving ones.

In the words of Rachel Held Evans, “The church doesn’t offer a quick fix.  The church offers death and resurrection.  The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation.  The church offers grace … The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relationship.  It takes time. [It can be] inefficient, like a meandering river.  Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path.  Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner.  Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.”

Even now in this moment of grief, the women realized, God is calling us to the meandering process of resurrection, to a journey that we cannot anticipate or plan, but leads, always, to new life.  And so, they sent a messenger out to see what Peter the apostle could do and, in the meantime, they wept and comforted each other and sat with one another in the midst of their pain.

As soon as Peter showed up, the widows began to eagerly show him the clothes that Tabitha had so tenderly woven. Yellow. White. Crimson. Blue.  They showed him the clothes that had taught them that of God’s bright-colored love and the dignity that we each have as God’s children.

Peter looked at the beautifully-made clothes and then looked down at Tabitha, seeing at once all the forces that had tried to keep her down during her life – the pain, the loneliness, the fear, the nagging self-doubts that told her she wasn’t good enough, the societal comments that told her that she was a nobody, illness.  His heart broke.  She was definitely dead.

Peter wasn’t sure what to do. He debated saying as much aloud.  Was it okay for an apostle to say, “I’m sorry ladies, I actually don’t know what to do, Jesus didn’t give me a handbook on raising the dead.  You are out of luck?”  No, Peter thought better of it and shooed the women out of the room and began to pray. As he prayed, Peter looked down at Tabitha’s soft, aged face, and a vision came upon him, surprising him like a sudden vista around the bend of the trail that you weren’t expecting to see.   In the moment, he saw that where he saw death, God saw the potential for new life.  Where Peter had been ready to close the chapter, he saw now, that God had been preparing for a new beginning.  Peter thought of Tabitha’s beautiful clothes and the truth the Love never dies.  Maybe he didn’t need a handbook.

So Peter reached down, and took Tabitha’s thin, wrinkled hand and said to her,

“Tabitha, get up.”

And the forces of death fell away, and Tabitha opened her eyes and got up.

Amen.

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