Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019 – Acts 9:36-43 – Trinity, Winchester
During the Easter season we hear quite a bit from the book of Acts. Acts chronicles the early days of the Church, the first communities of faithful disciples, and the early apostles, like Peter and Paul, who led them.
Speaking of, you may remember that the official name for Acts is “The Acts of the Apostles.”
An apostle is one who is “sent out.” Just as the first apostles were sent out to proclaim the resurrection, Christians continue that work today. That’s what it means to believe in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” which we confess each Sunday in the words of the Nicene Creed.
Our Church is apostolic because its members are sent out into the world to bear witness to the power of resurrection and to the glory of the Risen One.
In our tradition bishops are said to be apostles of the Church. As Episcopalians, our bishops (men and women, black and white, gay and straight) are living, breathing reminders of the apostolic faith.
They represent the corporate nature of our faith. Administratively, liturgically, and pastorally, they remind us that the church is bigger than our parish. Most of all, they are the chief witnesses of Jesus Christ in our communities.
You also share in the apostolic faith because you are a witness to the living Christ, the Christ who not only was raised, but the Christ who is risen, this Jesus who is among us now.
In today’s passage we encounter a model for our Christian witness in the Apostle Peter. Yes, Peter was eventually Bishop of Rome, but before that he was just an ordinary believer, called by an itinerant Rabbi who once bid him, “Follow me.”
Tabitha, the only woman referred to as a disciple in the entire New Testament, is dead. In the wake of the tragedy, the other disciples send for Peter. He comes quickly, finds the widows of Joppa in mourning, clears the room, and kneels in prayer. After summoning Tabitha to “get up,” he “shows her to be alive.”
The disciples send for Peter in their time of grief because he is a comfort to them, and he represents a link to Jesus. But while the disciples may view Peter as a link to Jesus, Peter doesn’t come to Joppa to bring Jesus with him. In fact, when Peter arrives, he finds the Spirit of Christ already there.
In the fragrant oils used to wash the body; in the bitter tears the mourners shed; in the very clothes the widows wear, symbols of the love and life of their dear friend Tabitha, the Risen One is already present.
That’s how it often is, isn’t it? In times of sorrow, when we gather at the bedside of an ailing family member or at the funeral of a loved one, God is already there.
The vicar may come to anoint a sick parishioner, but she does not bring Christ with her, she comes to show us that Christ is already there.
The bishop may come to preside at the funeral, but he does not bring Christ with him, he comes to point to Christ where Christ always is.
The mourners may come in droves from all around to give their condolences, but they do so not because they alone can bestow Christ. They do so because Christ calls them to where he already is. They do so to continue the work of resurrection.
Likewise, by raising Tabitha, Peter continues the work of resurrection. Peter shows us that Jesus is with us. Resurrection was not a one-time event; it is a continuing reality available to us all, even today.
As sweet as that sounds, there is always more work to be done. Just because we know that Jesus is always present, doesn’t mean everybody does. In fact, a lot of people don’t, so you need to tell them.
You are sent out to proclaim Christ. It’s your job, not to bring Jesus with you wherever you go, but to call attention to Jesus where he already is.
That’s hard work, primarily because there are people in the world who think the Church is dead, who think God is dead. They look around and see a world torn apart by school shootings, capitalist greed, and rumors of war. They say things like, “If God is good, then God must not be around anymore.”
I’ll admit, it seems those people have a point. Some days even the most hopeful among us are assaulted by this world’s convincing ubiquity of despair. As long as we stay silent, that’s exactly where folks are going to stay. We must not stay silent. We must not stay silent because we are Christians sent out to continue the work of resurrection.
Even in the freezing cold winter of the soul it is our duty to turn over every rock and leaf looking for life and saying “Show yourself to be alive!”
There are even those in this very community who accuse this very church—Trinity Episcopal Church—of being dead. For whatever reason some folks have it in their head that we have gone astray.
They say that we are not real Christians. They say that we don’t believe in the Bible. They say that we associate with sinners. They say that we are trying to spread certain “agendas.” They say that we don’t care about Jesus as much as we care about politics. They say that no one even shows up here on Sunday morning.
We know that none of that is true, but their words make it clear that we have more work to do. The good news is, we have the eternal power of the resurrection to help us do it.
Just like those early days of the church when Peter raised Tabitha from the dead, these are crucial times for our parish, and our Church, and indeed Christianity itself. It’s going to take each one of us, sharing the Good News of the resurrection, to show this town, this nation, and this world, that we go on living in spite of it all.
Maybe that’s why God raised Tabitha from the dead. God knew that there was so much to be done that he wasn’t quite ready to spare another disciple just yet. Maybe that’s why he sent Peter to say, “Get up.”
Maybe that’s why he sent Jesus here today to say, “Get up, and show yourself to be alive.”