Our scripture this morning is about loss and change.
In it we find both tremendous hope and a powerful love.
The loss in today’s scripture is the death of a matriarch of the early church:
Tabitha. We are also given her Greek name, Dorcas.
Since we are given two names, in two languages,
We can surmise that this early matriarch of the church did as Jesus called:
She built bridges across social and linguistic divides:
Her death reverberated through the early church; many loved her.
As we hear the story of her death,
We may think of those who have died, those we grieve this day.
We may also think of other losses in our lives:
The ending of a season of our lives:
Maybe graduating high school or college;
Ending our full time employment and entering retirement.
Maybe we have loss some physical ability:
Hearing, seeing, walking, driving
Maybe our children have moved out and the house is empty.
Or as Rev.Jonathan lifted up last week, perhaps we grieve the loss of how the church used to be,
Or the way society or our town used to be. (Read Sermon Here)
Loss is all around us in many forms,
But this scripture offers us tremendous hope and powerful love.
Scripture: Acts 9:36-43
36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.[a] She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
In the midst of loss this scripture lifts up powerful love and tremendous hope.
Powerful love is seen in the grieving of Tabitha.
Peter is greeted by a crowd of widows.
Tabitha had gathered around her quite a community.
It appears that she had a sewing enterprise going that greatly benefited the widows.
Remember widows were often quite destitute in this time.
The widows show us the power of love in grieving.
First, The widows are gathered in community.
Grieving often needs company.
A recent article in the Hartford Courant lifted up the tendency for people to avoid those who are grieving, afraid to get stuck in sadness. The result is an echoing of the isolation loss can bring.
The widows model the value of sticking together in the midst of grief.
Instead of echoing isolation, they echo belonging.
The widows also show Peter the clothes Tabitha had made.
“Tabitha is dead, but the evidence of her work still lives.” – Christian Century
Love often lasts through work left, impact felt.
The widows remind us to lift up and remember the gifts of what has been loss.
The widows also weep.
Today there is a taboo and shock around weeping.
Yes, our bodies need a physical release to the pain of loss.
Tears can wash out the heaviness in our hearts.
we need somewhere to allow the emotional intensity of loss to flow:
if not tears, then a good yelling bout with God or a run,
sometimes even laughter can help us release the physical emotional tightness loss brings.
The widows model for us powerful love in loss:
They stick together. They weep. They lift up the blessings of what was loss.
However, our scripture does not end with their grieving.
Peter, leader of the church, is called and comes.
He sends them out of the room.
The time for grieving is over.
He needs space for the miracle of new life.
He prays. Tabitha gets up. News of the miracle spreads.
I was bothered by Peter sending the widows out,
But a commentary suggested that the miracle of new life cannot be birthed if the space is crowded in grief.
There is a time to grieve and a time to make space for new life.
While grief is necessary and healthy,
It is not the final word.
Many have heard of the stages of grief.
The stages are not meant to be linear, more like cycles or waves.
Yet, with time and help, there come to be less days of denial, anger, and depression;
More days of acceptance, the 5th stage.
Acceptance of the new norm;
Not replacing or forgetting what was loss,
But making new in order to grow and live.
The move to acceptance involves loving the past without clinging.
The love remains and lasts, but the form changes.
So Peter sends the widows out of the room;
He knows the time for grief is over and so he makes space so the new life can emerge.
Tabitha is restored, rescucitated, although she is undoubtedly changed.
You don’t survive a life threatening illness without a change in your outlook.
The miracle reveals to the widows and to many in the town what faith in Jesus can do,
That there is life after death; a flower from the bulb, spring after winter.
Moreover, Peter shows us that at the appropriate time we must create space for the new life to blossom.
What allows us to release our grip on grief is the hope Peter shows us:
God is breathing new life in the midst of our loss.
New friendships, new understandings, new connections.
God is breathing a new church into being, a new society, new life that is beautiful even as it is different than what was.
If we remain in our grief too long, we miss the beauty of God’s new creation.
So, may we grieve the losses in our lives with weeping, in community, remembering the blessings.
In due time may we allow space for God to breathe new life into us and our community.
May we allow ourselves to marvel at the beauty of the past and also of the future. Amen.