Our Risen Lord Brings Life, Healing, and Hope
May 08, 2022
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Text: Acts 9:36-43
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Our focus these three weeks since Easter has been on the story of the early church told in the book of the Bible titled, “Acts of the Apostles.” And our theme has been “roadblocks,” particularly roadblocks to the proclamation of the Good News that Jesus is risen. (He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!)
The first roadblock was the Sanhedrin - the Council of 70 - leaders of the Jewish faith, which ordered the disciples to stop preaching and healing in “that name.” The second roadblock was a man named Saul, a Pharisee, who viewed the Jesus Movement as a threat to the Jewish faith, one that should be eradicated.
Both roadblocks were moved; the disciples defied the Sanhedrin, escaped execution because of a speech given by one of its members (amazingly), and broadly proclaimed the Good News. Saul, later called Paul, encountered the Risen Lord and became one of his greatest champions.
We read that soon after being chosen by God as a proclaimer of the Gospel, Saul became “increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.” (9:22) Of course, that led to people wanting to kill him; but he escaped their plot.
As chapter 9 continues, we read, “Meanwhile, the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31) That sounds great, but there is a roadblock. It is the opposite of the Good News, the sad news of death. As the early church was thriving, the death of a blessed disciple occurred, a reminder that mourning, crying, and pain still existed even when the news about Jesus was good. Of course, we know that also is the case in the here and now and continues to be a roadblock to our faith.
The death of Tabitha (or Dorcas) in today’s account was a huge shock. We know that because we know so much about her. We not only know her name, which is not the case for many followers of Jesus who are mentioned in scripture but she is honored by having her name reported in both Greek and Aramaic. (By the way, her name means gazelle in both languages.)
She is described as constantly being involved in ministry to others. The community is so shocked by her death that they ask Peter to come and be with them. We do not know exactly why they requested his presence; maybe they simply wanted apostolic consolation, or were they hoping for a grand miracle? In any case, no specific request was made of Peter, so perhaps they simply wanted to honor Dorcas by having the lead apostle there.
They showed him the clothing she had made, signs of her loving life, and no doubt explained how vital she was to their community. The most significant clue of her importance was that the Greek word for disciple, in the feminine form, is used to describe her - the only time it is used in the New Testament.
In Joppa, everyone knew her and gave thanks for her life. There are people like her in every church, every community. So, we can understand how they might have asked, “why Dorcas?” Why would God allow someone so faithful, so important to the community, to die?
What happens next is described in an understated way, although Peter does act boldly. After all, she had been dead for a while by the time he arrived. He cleared the room, prayed, and then simply told her to get up; the processes of death were reversed, her brain refired, and she was back among the living.
This is the point in the story when I ask, “why”? Obviously, many early Christians died who were not restored to life in this world. The church could have continued without her; they will have to do so one day; she will die again, and no one will raise her back up. So, why raise her from the dead in the first place?
We’ll get back to that question momentarily. First, though, I want to tell you that I was reading an article in a recent edition of Living Lutheran about the books of Acts. The author noted that some readers find the miracles in Acts an obstacle to appreciating the book; it seems too unrealistic in our scientific world. That’s why, he writes, focusing on the theological message is more important than debating about historical truth.
Among these theological messages are these: 1. The church and its witness belong to God. 2. Miracles done by believers, like Peter, bring their ministries more closely in line with Jesus’ ministry. 3. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit show up, call people into community and employ flawed human beings like ourselves in witness. (1)
So, what is the theological message in Dorcas’ story? At least one commentator noted that Dorcas’ ministry was largely to widows and others who were poor, weak, and vulnerable. Perhaps the message here is that God valued her ministry and wants to convey that that type of caring should continue. The lost, lonely, and last are near to God’s heart, as are the ones who care for them, like Dorcas. That is one explanation for why Dorcas was raised from death to life.
I think, though, that the primary reason for Dorcas’ resuscitation is that it is more of the same, so to speak. This account from Acts 9 is a way to emphasize the Good News of Easter: that death does not have the last word for Christians. It is a roadblock that has been not just moved but destroyed.
Quoting commentator Doug Bratt, “Our text reminds us that God has turned a new power loose in the world as the Spirit invades death’s occupied territory. God’s work through Peter signals that while dead Christians may not physically come back to life now, one day God will raise all of God’s children back to life. Nothing in heaven and earth, not even the last enemy that is death, can finally resist God’s loving sovereignty.” (2)
Dorcas reminds us that not only at times of death but also at other dark times, the Spirit of the risen Lord clears all roadblocks and enters our world to bring life, healing, and hope. (3) AMEN
(1) “Acts of the Holy Spirit” by Troy Troftgruben, Living Lutheran, pg. 39, April 2022
(2) “Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 17, 2016” by Doug Bratt, Acts 9:36-43, www.cepreaching.org
(3) “Fourth Sunday of Easter: Commentary on Acts 9:36-42” by James Boyce, www.workingpreacher.org