“They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”That hopeful reading from Revelation is often read at funerals as we mourn the loss of loved ones. Reminding us that our loved ones are now in God’s hands and in God’s peace. We watched recently as a nation mourned – Poland –who lost its president & first lady and so many others in the Polish leadership in a tragic plane crash. We often talk about Christian hope in the midst of mourning and grief.
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles illustrates it beautifully. Tabitha (or in the Greek Dorcas) was a disciple of Jesus and she was a pillar of her faith community in Joppa. She was a widow which in that society would have meant that she was on the margins and not financially secure. But what she had was faith. It was that faith that the widows and other disciples also had in that community. They felt her love and her care. She fell ill and died. They learned Peter was nearby and asked him to come at once. Peter learned from the widows of the good works & charity of Tabitha, the clothing she made for other widows. Peter puts them all outside the room where they beautifully laid their beloved Tabitha. He prays and asks Tabitha, to get up. (Reminiscent not only of Jesus’ resurrection, but Elisha and the widows’ son from the OT)
She does get up and Peter returns her to her community alive. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, raised Tabitha. It was a reminder to the early Christian community that God’s Spirit was still active in the world, just as it is for us today. God’s spirit is still active, still brining new life, still resurrecting people from their dead lives. In her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about a woman who was not sure she wanted to go on living.
"She was old. She lived alone. She was afraid to go to sleep at night for fear that she would not wake up in the morning, so she lay in bed waiting for the sun to come up before she dared to shut her eyes. "Then someone who loved her suggested that as long as she was awake, she might as well start listening for the first bird that sang each morning. Before long, the sound of that bird became the bell that woke her heart to life again. She named the bird. She discovered what such birds like to eat and put feeders full of seed in her yard. Other birds came, and she learned their names as well. She began to collect birdhouses, which she hung from the rafters of her porch until she became the mayor of an entire bird village."The woman still does not sleep well, but she found reason to get out of bed every morning. In caring for the birds of the field, she rediscovered love and hope in her life. It is that Spirit, the Spirit of God that will enliven us in the beauty of this world and in our lives. Easter faith calls us out of our places of death and into places of beauty.
Yesterday, we buried Tom Gilbane from this parish. He had only been with us for a couple of months. But he found in this place love and acceptance, and fellow pilgrims walking on their journey of faith. Whether we are burying one of our oldest members like we did with Martha DuBail just a few months ago, or one of our newest with Tom yesterday, we do so as a community of faith, following the lead of the Good Shepherd.
And we do it with the hope of those in Joppa burying their own Tabitha. But it isn’t just a hope for us, we carry out that hope to the world…
A man was walking along the East River promenade in New York City in a very dejected state of mind. He was more than dejected—he was suicidal, was seriously contemplating climbing over the railing that separated the promenade from the river and throwing himself in. Life felt empty, meaningless, hollow. He felt that the writing he had devoted himself to for decades had no real value, and didn't amount to much, what had he really accomplished in life?In this our place of worship, we know that the Spirit of God is with us here and that same Spirit sends us out into the world to do God’s will, to live out our abundant Easter hope in our lives and to help others live abundantly too. Amen.
As he stood staring at the dark, swirling water, trying to summon up the courage to do the deed, an excited voice interrupted his thoughts. "Excuse me," said a young woman, "I'm sorry to impose upon your privacy, aren't you Christopher D'Antonio,* the writer?" He nodded indifferently. "I hope you don't mind my approaching you, but I just had to tell you what a difference your books have made in my life! They have helped me to an incredible degree, and I just wanted to thank you." "No, my dear, it is I who have to thank you!" Antonio said as he wheeled around, turned away from the East River and headed back home. (from Small Miracles)