Our reading from the book of Acts tells the narrative of Peter’s raising of Tabitha (Dorcas in the Greek–her two names representative of two blended cultures make her the ideal character in the book of Acts [e.g. Saul/Paul]) in the city of Joppa. Tabitha was much loved by the early Christian community. She lived a life of good deeds and generosity, thus when Peter shows up in the home where Tabitha lies dead he is met by people holding tunics and clothing that Tabitha had made them. In this respect Tabitha is not known primarily by her ethnic identity or other externals, but by here good deeds. In the scene that follows Peter sends everyone away and orders Tabitha to get up, which she does. He then presents the once dead Tabitha to the sorrowful crowd. The news of Tabitha’s resurrection spreads throughout the region and many are said to believe in Jesus as a result.
Everybody knows Psalm 23! And, since it has a reputation as a funeral psalm, it is a fitting response to our first lesson from the book of Acts. However, Phillip Jenkins (scholar of the history of Christianity around the globe) interestingly points out that in the African and Asian churches Psalm 23 is not known as a funeral psalm but rather a psalm of resistance against oppression. In these contexts the psalm passes on this message to its hearers, “The Lord is my Shepherd–YOU AREN’T!” This is an interesting new way to look at the Psalm, and one that the Psalm offers an appropriate response to our reading from the book of Revelation (our second lesson) as well as to our reading from the book of Acts.
Our semi-continuous readings from the book of Revelation take us this week to the tail end of the narrative of the opening of the seven seals. After the seals are opened John the seer looks out and sees an uncountable multitude of people before the throne of God dressed in white robes from every tribe and speaking every language. One of the 24 elders asks John who these people are. John in turn asks the elder the same question. The elder responds that these people are those who have gone through the great ordeal (this is the ordeal that the opening of the sixth scroll has just brought about). Having gone through the great ordeal they are now worshiping the one on the throne who has delivered them. Our reading ends with the promise that God will wipe every tear away from the eyes of the great multitude. The message of our passage it thoroughly apocalyptic: those who persevere in hard times will see the final victory of God.
In our gospel reading Jesus is asked by curious Jews if he is the “Messiah.” Jesus’ enigmatic response is to say that he has already shown who he is by his actions, and if those asking were of the “sheep” then they would know the answer. Important to our reading from the book of Revelation is Jesus’ insistence in our gospel lection that God will protect the “sheep” and that noone will be able to “snatch them away.” Jesus ends by stating “The Father and I are one.”
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts, minds, thoughts, hymns, and prayers for Sunday consider the protection of God available to those who are going through the “great ordeal.” Consider the powerful words of Psalm 23–that indeed, the Lord is our Shepherd (cf. Rev. 7:17)–which means that we not only have solace in a time a great loss (e.g. the death of
Tabitha) but we also have strength when facing those who stand against us.