Sunday, May 8, 2022
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Prayer of the Day
O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep. By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 9:36-43 Peter raises Tabitha/Dorcas from the dead
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17 A white-robed multitude sings before the Lamb
John 10:22-30 Jesus promises eternal life to his sheep

Sermon
Title:   Witness to Deaths and Resurrections

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Was that shout of new life filling Peter’s head as he sat there looking at the lifeless body of Tabitha, aka Dorcas?  Or was it something less positive, less hope-filled? 

Death was not new to Peter.  Awhile back he had witnessed the death of his friend.  In those first hours following the crucifixion, he and the others had witnessed the death of the dreams that had been stirred up by this extraordinary teacher, their rabbi.  Even before all that, Peter had witnessed those small deaths that come when we disappoint ourselves and those we care about.  Like that time when fear caused him to sink into the sea even though Jesus was standing their beckoning him.  Or when terror caused him to deny his discipleship.  Or when self-preserving shortsighted-ness caused him to ignore Jesus’ true mission and meaning, and in response, Jesus referred to the confused disciple as Satan.  Yes, Peter knew death well.  Daily deaths and final deaths.  Is that what he was thinking as he saw Tabitha’s lifeless body lying there?  Knowing that she had experienced her own deaths and now had suffered the final one. Or…Did the alleluias of Easter break through?

Was he thinking back to that strange morning on the first day of the week when everything in the world changed?  When he heard the women returning with stories of an empty tomb and Mary telling of encounters with their Lord in the garden?  Was he thinking back to that evening when the risen Christ stood in their midst speaking peace, proclaiming in his victory over death that God’s kingdom of life had indeed come, revealing in his presence a snapshot of the new creation- the new heaven and the new earth that John is seeing in Revelation where there is no hunger, no thirst, no tears, no death?  Was he thinking of that breakfast on the beach (last week’s gospel reading) when Jesus’ renewing and forgiving commission called him to feed and tend his flock in response to Peter saying, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” three times.  It would have been good for all this and more to fill Peter’s head, and heart and soul – to face death with life, resurrection new life, as he stood over Tabitha.  And I guess he was, because we certainly see that with all the hope born out of his witness of that Easter day, confirmed by the continuing presence of the risen Christ, Peter seizes that new creation that not only is promised for the future, but is ours now, through faith; and so he says “Tabitha, get up.”  He speaks to her as if she is taking a nap, because in the Easter reality that Peter now understands and is seeking to live into, he sees that there is nothing permanent in Tabitha’s death, there is only life, new life, resurrected life, creation into re-creation.  And through faith, Peter is a witness to yet another snapshot of this new creation that will one day transform all of creation, but for now, through the power and witness of Jesus’ resurrection, we receive but a foretaste.  Those deaths of earlier memory, all of them, have indeed lost their sting.

The disciples who sent for Peter certainly knew this.  I’m guessing that is what they were thinking.  That is why they sent for Peter.  The end had not come; there was still something that could be done.  But the widows and the mourners were certainly not of this mind.  They had washed the body preparing it for burial.  They had laid her out in the upper room and filled the space with Tabitha’s works and their own wailing.  They had created a tribute-filled shrine to Tabitha – who was one whose faith and weaving had impressed them.  She was all but a memory to them now.  But all that changed when Peter showed her to them to be very much alive.  What was filling their heads then?  We are told that through this, many came to believe in the Lord – Jesus the Christ, the one we know to be the Lord of Life. Through death and resurrection we bear witness to our new life in Christ.  Resurrection AND death.

And while the faith and confidence of Peter may never fill our heads and lead us to raise a dead body to life, I’m guessing that many of us can relate to the shift in thinking that those widows of Joppa experienced when they encountered the resurrecting power of God – our persistent and mothering God of creation and new creation.  We who continue to live in a world of hunger and thirst, of suffering and death, yet, by grace through faith, delight in foretastes of the new creation feast to come.  What was filling your head when you looked at something you thought dead?  What filled your heart when you saw new life blossom where you thought you could see only death?

The other day I went looking for a document in my digital files that I thought I had written, one of my many short plays, but I couldn’t find it.  I guess it never made it from psyche to screen.  But what I did find was a journal entry from mid March of 2011.  At the time my term call at Redeemer, Queens Village was coming to an end and the next step, if all agreed, would be a congregational vote to make it a permanent call.  The only problem was, I was not feeling called to stay there.  Although I never considered my call to be defined by LGBTQ outreach, I was being drawn to find something that at least had more contact with this community than what I was experiencing.  (In fact, I was not completely out to the congregation. But that’s another story, a long story.)  A few months before I had talked to the bishop about my discernment and my longing.  Now it was Lent, and the upcoming lectionary was the call of Abram.  In this journal entry I was connecting with Abram’s responding to God’s call as I was considering taking a leave from call rather than stay at a place I did not feel called to.  It would not have been fair to the congregation and not good for me.  I wrote how colleagues were telling me I was crazy and to not do anything rash.  I imagined Abram’s family and friends telling him the same thing as this urban-dwelling-polytheist told folks he was being called to move out to the wilderness and start a relationship with the one true God.  Well, we all know how it went with Abram.  As for me, two weeks after I wrote that journal entry, I got a call from the synod office to discuss a pastoral vacancy at St. John’s on Christopher St.  We just never know where new life is going to spring.  But we can be assured that in time it will.  Maybe not what we expect or even always what we want, but the promise of the resurrection is that new life abounds.

What are your resurrection stories of death into life?  Some I have heard, some I have witnessed.  Some are individual.  Some stories belong to the whole community.  What ones do you tell?  What ones do you live? Embracing that call to St. John’s has given me the privilege to hear so many, be inspired by so many.  Just the other day, trying to pass through the fellowship hall quietly while an AA meeting was going on behind the dividers that sectioned off the room, I heard a young man introduce himself and say he had 14 hours of sober living.  He may not see it now, but we of resurrection faith know that 14 hours before he had experienced a death, and now he was seeking and living into new life.  Fittingly, it was happening here in this place of resurrection hope.  And he was with a group of witnesses that could guide him because they too had walked that way.

Once at Citifield, on day that the Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves, I overheard a conversation on the concessions line.  Two twenty-something young men, who had just bumped into each other at the game after not having seen each other for a while, were catching up.  I heard one say to the other – So, you’re living the dream?  The details of the dream for them was – job at a good bank, a New York apartment that he could afford on his own, and hanging with friends at a Mets game.  We’re told that that’s the dream.  Though I do listen to conversations (a bad habit, I know), I rarely jump into them.  (I do have some sense of appropriate behavior.)  But if I had been one to jump in, I was thinking to myself that I would turn to them and say, “you may be living the dream, but you may want to try living the reality.”  Living the reality that is ours in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that reality that is ours in snapshots and foretastes, encouraging and healing and strengthening us to work to further the kingdom of God – the power and eternity of which is revealed through the resurrection of Christ and through the on-going resurrections that we experience on a daily basis.  Ours as we rise up out of the waters of baptism, as a new creation, a child of God.  As we receive the healing touch that the Good Shepherd calls us each to share with one another for the health and care-taking of God’s flock.  The reality we hear in the word of God that testifies to the love of God made known in Christ the good shepherd.  That we eat at our Lord’s Table, nourished by his presence and revived by his forgiveness.  That joins us together in mission, so that all the world may live the reality to which Peter and the other witnesses of the resurrection dedicated their lives, bringing the good news of our new life in Christ to the dead and the wanting.  A mission that is now ours, in this time and place, to proclaim the reality in all that we say and do, by the witness of our own deaths and resurrections through the power of the Holy Spirit, a reality that we testify to each time we say:  

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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