For April 17, 2016. Acts 9:36-43, Ps 23, Rev. 7:9-17, John 10:22-30
The main character of the story in Acts is Tabitha,(if you speak Aramaic) or Dorcas (if you speak Greek) Well, that doesn't help me much, I speak English. Apparently the name, in both languages, means "gazelle." Still not sure I am helped, except to know this story is obviously meant for a church made up of two ethnic groups. The Aramaic speakers were likely Jewish, and the Greek speakers were Greek. That may not seem important, until we start thinking about cultures and their different customs, and what might happen at a funeral.
This is what we walk in on here. Gazelle has died. She was loved by everyone in both cultural groups.There's no hint of problems, but it's easy to imagine the groups might have differing ideas of what has to happen next. (I think the way Gazelle is named in both languages deliberately gives ownership to both groups. No one can say that because she is Greek the funeral should be a certain way, or Jewish and it should be their way.)
This week I spoke to a friend who attended the Indian funeral of a relative. The customs are a bit different than the European Canadian ones-more "hands on". It was hard for my friend to experience the differences.
Funerals are hard, and not always for the obvious reasons. At funerals, feelings are magnified and things that had always been put off or ignored can flare up. Our usual "filtering" of our responses doesn't happen quite properly because our emotions are frayed and some of the old boundaries (like let's get along for mom)-don't stand anymore. Old grievances may flare up, unsolved issues surface, arguments about what best honours the deceased, disagreements over inheritances, decisions over clothes, coffin choice, funeral or memorial service, cremation or burial, who sits where, which pastor do we want, one side of the family is too evangelical the other is atheist....do we let uncle Bernie go to an open mike....
Funerals can also be an incredible time of family connection, the gathering and telling of stories that enlighten and comfort, a celebration of life and a support, and a providing of hope for the future.
Gazelle's funeral gathering is a place of storytelling. It is an incredible group of grateful people. It is also a place of tremendous grief. The grief isn't only that Gazelle is gone, it is also a loss of hope for these people-these widows were helped, and now their source of help is gone. It is crisis! Gazelle was a disciple (she merits the only use of the female form of the Greek word for disciple in the New Testament!) The community sends for Peter, whom they know is nearby. They obviously do not feel they can handle this crisis on their own----and perhaps they hope for a miracle?
Peter's actions mirror what he saw Jesus do in Mark 5:35-41. Here, Jesus raised Jairus' (leader of the synagogue) daughter. Peter does things the same way. He tells people to leave the room. He prays. He tells Gazelle to get up. She does. It's a direct parallel and an example to all who wish to follow Jesus. If we do what he does, death turns to life.
Of course, this is figurative speech. Miracles do happen, but not on demand, and not by our choice. The power is always God's. This does not lessen the claim that when we follow Jesus there is life.
The stories here in Acts are all about the power of resurrection turning lives upside down. In this little story, everything is topsy turvy because people are following Jesus. The paralyzed walk (9:32-34), a woman is called a disciple directly for the first time, Jews and Greeks are together, fishermen preach to priests, death turns to life, loss to hope, and customs are turned upside down. There is an odd little note in 9:43 that says Peter stays with a tanner. We don't necessarily "get it", but a tanner would have been at the bottom of the social ladder. Tanning was a stinky, unclean job. So we may as well say that the amazing itinerant speaker (evangelist?) who comes to town has gone to stay in the rough end of town in the home of a garbage collector. This would offend Jews (it's terribly unclean!) and Greeks (who value prestige). Peter is making a point.
Where disciples courageously follow Jesus, hope will grow. Life will change. Death becomes life.
What an amazing message. No wonder resurrection is at the heart of our faith! It's a hard message too, because death comes first.
Question: Where have you experienced something that felt like a death to life change? Where do you long for one?