“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
I’ve always enjoyed the biblical story of Tabitha. I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to it is that Tabitha’s Greek name is Dorcas. She lived in Joppa, which is a coastal city of ancient Israel.
Any of these port-cities would have had a large number of foreigners, and Greek was the shared language among all of them. It’s like today you can go almost anywhere in the world and find someone who speaks English.
So Tabitha was also known by her Greek name of Dorcas. Her story is beautiful, but I don’t know of anyone today who is so impressed by it that they would dare name their daughter Dorcas. It would be brutal in elementary school with that name.
Tabitha was a saintly woman. It is said of her in the Bible that she “was devoted to good works and acts of charity,” and that she was a disciple, which means she was one of those first-generation followers of Jesus.
When she passed away, the community gathered around her and mourned her death wailing in sorrow. They send for Peter who is in a neighbouring town. They show him all of the clothes that Tabitha had made for them over the years. Peter is so moved by Tabitha’s Christian charity that he ushers everyone out of the room. Now it’s just Peter and the deceased Tabitha. And Peter prays to Jesus for a miracle. Peter prays that Tabitha may come back to life. The Bible then only tells us that this is exactly what happens, and Peter presents the re-animated Tabitha to all the mourners who rejoice. But the Bible leaves out the reaction of Tabitha when she was alone in that room with Peter, and this leaves an opening for our own imaginations.
Tabitha had been a tireless saint, constantly doing for others. She would be hot and sweaty, dirty and tired, but she found a way to help everyone around her. When she died, those who loved her washed her body clean and laid her comfortably to rest on a bed. On the other side, she met Jesus. She witnessed the wonders of heaven and felt the reward of rest and peace that comes after a life well led. She was so happy.
Then there’s an intrusion into all of this heavenly paradise. Peter’s voice can be heard booming through the tranquility of heaven’s streets. It’s a passionate prayer that Tabitha be returned to earth. Jesus looks at the startled woman with tenderness and a little regret, and the next thing she knows she opens her eyes and she’s back in Joppa.
There’s Peter smiling, but it’s not hard to imagine her closing her eyes tightly again and trying to fool Peter and maybe sneak back to heaven, but Peter knows. He waits, and eventually she peeks at him and then says something like, “Just let me lie here for a while, I’m exhausted. It’s so nice to be clean and the bed is so comfortable.”
But Peter takes the bewildered woman by the hand and leads her out to all of those she had served so tirelessly. It reminds me of when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. It’s one of Jesus’ first miracles.
He heals the woman and then the Bible says she got up and served all of them. Peter’s mother-in-law was made well enough to cook and serve 13 guys dinner. I wonder if she was really happy about that.
I wonder if the same kind of thing is going on with Tabitha. She was in Paradise, rested, clean, time to herself. Now Peter brings her out to the people who always needed something. I wonder if Tabitha was grateful to Peter or maybe a little upset.
And with the Tabitha-story now firmly in our thoughts, let me transition to Mother’s Day. I saw a cartoon recently. Mom gets up to feed the baby at 9:30, 12:30 and 2AM. Dad gets up at 3AM. Mom gets up again at 4 and 6AM. The alarm goes off at 7AM and dad says to her, “I’m so tired.” Mothers are the Tabitha’s of the world. Mothers are asked to give of themselves for the ones they love. Today we hopefully give them at least one day of rest. But then mothers are back to being mothers again, which means doing for others.
This is why when some of the biblical writers tell us of God’s compassion, they choose to speak of God in terms of motherhood. Isaiah does so frequently, like when God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” But the imagery of motherhood can also be forcefully protective as when God says to Hosea the prophet: “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder.” (13:8)
Jesus speaks at the end of His life of wanting to comfort and protect Jerusalem as a mother would (Lk 13:34). The oldest piece of Christian literature is the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and there Paul explains that the apostles are sent to care tenderly for the people like a nurse cares for her own children.
Christian mystics through the centuries trying to convey the feeling of deep love they experience in God speak of God as Mother, and many feminist theologians today do the same. They do so because the idea of the Holy Spirit reaches back to the vital breath of God that gave life to Adam, that gave birth to Adam. Ever since, the Holy Spirit has been associated with the mothering aspect of God. The Spirit creates, brings us together and holds us together.
Back to Tabitha. There are two ways of looking at religion and they are becoming quite distinct nowadays. There is the religion of law and there is the religion of love. Law emphasizes judgment. There are those who follow the laws and get into heaven and there are so many, many others who don’t and they face eternal torment.
Then there is the religion of love. This is the faith of Tabitha. She was a disciple of Christ, a follower. What defined her as a disciple? All we’re told is that she lived like Christ. She cared for others. She tried to provide for others.
And since her name is familiar in both languages, Tabitha and Dorcas, this means that she didn’t only care and provide for one group as opposed to another. She was known by the Jews and the Greeks. She didn’t care about such distinctions. She tried to help whoever was in need no matter who they were.
The story of Tabitha made it into the Bible so that every generation of Christians would know what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ. Every Christian won’t be a perfect Tabitha. Every mother won’t be a perfect mother. But our job is to try.
So for all the mothers of our church, of our families and our community, a blessed Mother’s Day. And for all of us trying to be better Christians, to be more like Tabitha, let us gather around the Communion Table so that we may be fed and nourished by a mothering Christ.
For all these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The link below will take you to the video of our Music Sunday liturgy. The entire Service was musical, including the announcements, the sermon, the invitation for the children to leave for Sunday School, the invitation for the offering and the dedication of the offering.
Our sincere thanks to our Music Minister, Anthony Tracia, all the members of the Chancel Choir, and to our guest string quartet consisting of violin - Amanda Stenroos, violin - Marijo Sherrill, viola - Brianna Rzeznik, and cello - Karl Knapp.
It was a beautiful worship and we all hope you enjoy it as well.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
After death, people go through a bureaucratic examination to determine where they’re going. One room has a clerk who inputs records of what each applicant did on his or her last day of life.
The first applicant of the day explains that his last day was not a good one. "I came home early and found my wife lying unclothed in bed. She claimed she had just gotten out of the shower. Well, her hair was dry and I checked the shower and it was completely dry too.
I knew she was into some hanky-panky and I began to look for her lover. I went onto the balcony of our 9th floor apartment and found this guy clinging to the rail by his fingertips. I was so angry that I began bashing his fingers with a flower pot. He let go and fell, but his fall was broken by some awnings and bushes.
On seeing he was still alive I found super human strength to drag our antique cedar chest to the balcony and throw it over. It hit the man and killed him. At this point the stress got to me and I suffered a massive heart attack and I died too.
The clerk thanked him and sent him on to the next office. The second applicant said that his last day was his worst. "I was on the roof of an apartment building working on the AC equipment. I stumbled over my tools and toppled off the building.
I managed to grab onto the balcony railing of a 9th floor apartment, but some idiot came rushing out onto the balcony and bashed my hands with a flower pot. I fell but hit some awnings and bushes and survived, but as I looked up I saw a huge cedar chest falling toward me. I tried to crawl out of the way but failed and was hit and killed by it."
The clerk couldn’t help but chuckle as he directs the man to the next room. He is still giggling when his third customer of the day enters. He apologizes and says, "I doubt that your last day was as interesting as the fellow in here just before you." "I don't know," replies the man, "picture this, I'm buck naked hiding in this cedar chest..."
We do not know how we’re going to die, hopefully it’s not as scandalous as any of the stories just shared, but we are all going to die. Our mortality is a certainty. After hearing about so many super rich people and corporations that don’t end up paying taxes, the old saying about “as sure as death and taxes,” is now just “as sure as death.”
But what happens after we die is less than certain. And I don’t say this as a Christian doubting the afterlife because I don’t personally doubt the afterlife. I say this because believing in Easter is a choice. It was, as we heard in today’s Gospel about doubting Thomas; it is still today; and it always will be a choice to believe.
To believe in life after death is a matter of faith and that is something completely different than certainty. For me one reason I believe in Easter is because something changed all of those scared and timid apostles.
The ones who deserted Jesus at the cross because they lost their faith in Him are somehow the same ones who get called in before the council because they can’t stop talking about Jesus as we heard in Acts.
For me at least, the reason is Easter. They realized forcefully that Jesus was no longer dead, and when they realized that He lives, these people were changed.
To believe in the resurrection means to trust, first and foremost in Jesus, to trust also in those first eye witnesses, and then to trust ourselves. Maybe, hopefully, we’ve had those special, spiritual moments when we feel the reality of Jesus close at hand, and I hope church is a part of that.
Maybe, hopefully, those encounters help us to trust Easter stories from 2,000 years ago because if the tomb was empty, then Jesus can be present in our lives now. So it’s not just their experience; it’s ours too.
In this social media age, we have to be more attuned than ever to the fact that we must choose whom we will trust. Trusting Jesus, the eye-witnesses and our own spiritual experiences is a choice, and that’s why the resurrection can’t be a certainty. Faith is always going to be a choice.
And the choice to believe in life after death is really not a question that should wait until life after death. If we believe in life after death, well, we should live like we do. We have work to do if we’re really Easter people. There’s no sitting around waiting for heaven. We’re called upon to do heaven’s work now.
I love the passage that Anita read for us today: “The high priest questioned [the apostles], saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name [of Jesus], yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching … But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.’”
“Filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” How powerful is that? The apostles knew what the world wanted. They had to make a choice. They knew there would be consequences if they preached Jesus. They just witnessed what had happened to Jesus on Calvary. But they stood up to power anyway.
And it’s important to remember how they stood up to power. It was by offering something better. Too much of religion today is crass. It can be unimpressive and embarrassing. We don’t trust in its message enough to bring people in so we talk about the consequences of not coming in.
I actually heard a preacher the other day on the radio, I think he was from San Antonio, Texas. He was getting all excited about Jesus’ Second Coming and that there would be rivers of blood flowing for miles around Him as He raised His sword to save the righteous and to damn the wicked. The preacher sounded giddy over the expectation.
That’s not the same Jesus I hear in the Gospels. That’s turning Jesus into just another worldly power.
The apostles weren’t looking to get even. They were looking to offer something better and they filled the world with Jesus’ gospel, and people chose to follow because it is beautiful and inspiring, and that changed the world.
So if we’re people who have chosen to believe in life after death, we have stuff to do now. We need to get Jesus’ gospel out there above all the hellfire and brimstone preaching and charges of sins and sinners.
We need to offer a better example of extravagant welcome that invites people to choose to believe, because as the risen Jesus said to Thomas: “‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”
May the Easter mystery continue in us and through us as we strive to fill the world with Jesus’ message. In His name we pray. Amen.
Phoenix Processional (Dan Locklair)
Here is an audio recording of this morning's Prelude played by our Music Minister, Anthony Tracia. Enjoy - we sure did.
We wish to thank everyone who donated to our Easter Flower collection this year so that our Sanctuary could help share the joy and wonder of this most blessed season of Easter.
The video link to our Palm Sunday Service will be uploaded tomorrow. Here are some photos in the meanwhile.
Blessing of the palms. The children and youth of the parish distribute the palms to those in the congregation. Shown here: Megan, Pari and Maya
And also Lizzie, Casey and Matthew, with dad Matthew too.
Thanks to Maddie for showing us all how to make palm crosses. That's Rev. Randy's poor attempt at cross making all the way to the right.
So Rev. Randy took credit for our Music Minister, Anthony Tracia's, perfect palm cross.
We read Luke's Passion account as today's Word of God. Thanks to our readers: Glenda, Carolyn, Maureen, Jeff, Bill, Becky, Mark and Rev Randy
On Holy Monday at 7PM, we will be reading the crucifixion account in Mark's Gospel. On Maundy Thursday at 7PM we will remember Jesus' Last Supper and the new commandment (mandatum) to Love One Another.
The church will be open on Good Friday from 9AM - 3:30PM for private prayer and meditation.
The community Easter Egg Hunt is on Saturday at 10AM.
All leading up to the glory of Easter. Sunrise Service at 5:45am across from the American Legion and back in church at 10AM.
All are welcome, and we do mean all.
Faith, love and chitchat.
Sunday 10-11am (9:30am July + August)
Children Sunday School 10-11am
Nursery care available during worship