Fourth Weekend of Easter (C/RCL): Dorcas, Ellie, Lois, June, Alwena and Us
John 10: 22-30/Acts 9:32-43
April 16-17, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
In case anyone is expecting and thinking of baby names, don’t discount “Dorcas” for a little girl! It has a lovely meaning: it’s Greek for gazelle. It’s interesting that even though so many people in Scripture aren’t referred to by name at all and are forever anonymous, we know the lady in this weekend’s first lesson by two names: Dorcas and Tabitha, which is Dorcas’ name in Aramaic, the language Jesus’ and His friends spoke to each other.
It’s an interesting story. We’re told that Dorcas:
“was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” (Acts 9:36)
One of her talents was sewing. She must have been a wonderful seamstress – and very generous giving away the clothes she made – because the friends who may have been present when she died and who did tenderly wash her body for burial, had a whole collection of tunics and other things she’d made that they were showing others who swung by to offer their condolences. One of those people was Peter.
Hearing what a woman of faith Dorcas was, how well-loved, talented, and generous-hearted, made me want to bring some show-and-tell today, things made by some of our Holy Trinity friends who are now part of the church triumphant in heaven.
- This is a child-sized comforter made by Ellie Salzer, one of our devoted crafters, using purple yarn because she knew that is Kristiane’s favorite color. Out of loving use it began to unravel around the edges and I asked crafter friends if they could fix it. Lois Hodousek popped up like toast, offering to repair it ASAP, which she did enthusiastically and efficiently, two of Lois’ trademark qualities .
- These are mother/daughter snowman aprons created by June Tyson, another amazing sewer in our midst. My apron still fits and Kristiane’s once did – but you can get some idea of how long ago June made these for us by the fact that Kristiane is now completing her junior year in college and outgrew this apron a long time ago! These aprons and another set made of Easter egg fabric hold happy memories of cutting out many sugar cookies. They also serve as wonderful reminders of June, a faith-filled and gracious woman.
- This is a piece embroidered by Alwina Bradner, a Holy Trinity saint I was never honored to meet, but whose freehand cross-stitch pictures of birds and flowers are treasured by many of her Holy Trinity sisters. This “Bless This House” creation hangs in the parsonage dining room, the handiwork of a friend I have yet to meet.
St. Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts as well as the Gospel according to Luke, tells us that disciples present when Dorcas died sent a quick message to Peter, who was staying about 12 miles away. “Come here! STAT!” We don’t know if there was any more to the message, like what they wanted him to do once he arrived. We do know that word had recently spread like wildfire about Peter healing a man named Aeneas who had been bedbound for 8 years. Could they have been holding out hope that God would work another miracle through Peter? ‘Seems like a pretty big leap from healing a sick person to resuscitating a dead one…
You heard the rest of the story. Peter goes when called. The ladies, all widows, sadly show off Dorcas’ handiwork and I’m sure told accompanying stories about her faith and generosity. Then Peter asks them all to leave and kneels down by the body to pray. He says, “Tabitha, get up.” In Aramaic that would be, “Tabitha cumi.” Do the words, “Talitha cumi” ring a bell for anyone? (Mark 5:40) “Little girl, get up,” Jesus says to the 12 year old daughter of Jairus, who seemed so dead the professional wailers had arrived and were already making a ruckus outside the house. The little girl obeyed…. And so did Tabitha. We’re told:
“This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” (Acts 9:42)
Miracles sometimes make believers of people. Peter prayed and Dorcas revived. Think of the promise in today’s lesson from Revelation (Revelation 7:17). God certainly “wipe[d] away every tear from [the] eyes” of her dear friends who had gently washed her body and dressed her in what they believed to be her favorite robe. (For a seamstress, the outfit she was buried in would be more than normally important…. even if they also planned to wrap her in a winding sheet.) Dorcas’ friends, like Lazarus’, got an amazing reprieve from grief when their loved ones were called back from the dead. But we say they were resuscitated not resurrected, because they returned to earthly life rather than going ahead to risen life like Jesus. Another encounter with death awaited them. Their friends would shed more tears when they died a second time.
This is Good Shepherd weekend. In the Gospel from St. John Jesus says:
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Ellie, Lois, June, Alwena, so many of our loved ones have died and not been returned to us, but they have certainly not been snatched out of God’s hand. In Holy Baptism they were promised eternal life, which earthly death cannot short-circuit. Like Dorcas, they were “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” Through them God worked small miracles (though someone has said there is no such thing as a “small miracle”). They witnessed by living faith-filled lives that bore the fruits of the Spirit, like love, mercy, generosity, joy.
The Good Shepherd has deputized us, the members of His flock, to spread the Gospel, to help the Kingdom come and God’s will be done (Matthew 6:10) through our “good works and acts of charity.” Whether we make prayer shawls to wrap the sick in God’s love, like Lois did, share the miracles God works in our lives, like midweek Advent and Lenten devotion-givers and e-devotion writers do, stock the shelves of the food pantry with a box of cereal placed in a shopping cart or actually volunteer over at First Pres., deliver a mattress or linens or kitchen utensils to a Sandy survivor, spend an evening playing with children in the Family Promise program, pave the way for our possible involvement in refugee resettlement, or advocate for those without a voice by calling or e-mailing our legislators: in all these ways we are living the risen life; we are walking in “right pathways” (Psalm 23:3) for our Lord’s name’s sake, the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, who will not allow His children to perish, and who will not allow anything, including death itself, to snatch us out of His hand.
The community, the world was blessed by Dorcas’ return to it; it would have been a poorer place without her, and maybe that’s why she was chosen to be the subject of a miracle. Can the same be said of us? Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham