The Kingdom of Sewing Rooms (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

[This post is part of an Easter series: President [fill in the blank] and King Jesus.]

As a pastor I’m somewhat used to being around the departing and very-recently-departed. Within my first few months as a pastor a family called me to pray with them in the hospital room of their dead mother. They asked if we could all hold hands, including my holding the dead mother’s hand, which was still slightly warm yet was also cool and stiff and very clearly devoid of life. It’s an indescribable feeling one doesn’t forget. Another time, a dear church member died and my wife and I waited with the body for several hours in the cold hospital holding area as the woman’s family traveled to the city. But a number of such incidents have followed over the years and, while I’m always sensitive to and mystified by the dying and dead, it’s no longer a novelty.

Tabitha was a beloved disciple who “was devoted to good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36-43). She was a seamstress who had made many garments during her life, most likely many given to those in need. You know the type of person—quiet, humble, having very little yet always giving to others. So when Tabitha becomes ill and dies, she leaves behind many brokenhearted brothers and sisters in Christ. Desperate, they reach out to Peter for help.

Peter is on a journey—a spiritual journey. It began that day on the sea, the day Jesus called him to become a “fisher of people.” There have been many ups and downs, many challenges since then. Peter has been forced to look into his own soul, to weep at what he sees, and to humbly repent before his risen Lord. Now Peter is a real leader of the church. He only thought things were challenging while he walked the dusty roads of Palestine with Jesus. Now that Jesus has ascended, Peter has to step up and lead others down those roads. He has to go where, apart from that call from Jesus, he would never otherwise have gone.

Like his Lord, Peter is called to become unclean in order to reach out with the life and love of God. We see him going in to meet with a corpse. The body has been washed and prepared for burial, but dead is dead. But Peter had been with Jesus when he was called to do the same thing Peter is now called to do. Jesus did not shrink from the call, and neither will Peter. Like Jesus with Jairus’s daughter (Mk. 5:21-43), Peter speaks the gentle but authoritative words of life, “Tabitha, get up.” The dear woman opens her eyes and sits up. Peter takes her hand and helps her up. There is great rejoicing and awe! And the beloved Tabitha is back to her sewing before the week is over.

The miracle, of course, is the raising of Tabitha from the dead. But the other miracle is the new life Peter is finding through humble obedience. One of the reasons so many of us identify with Peter in the gospels is that he seems content with easy answers. He, like us, likes to have things figured out. Now, in Acts, we see Peter learning to go with the flow, to move in obedience to the Spirit’s leading. When the Spirit—through the life of the church—requests Peter’s presence with a corpse, the old fisherman is there. And surprisingly, at the end of this story, we find Peter staying in the house of Simon, a tanner. This means Peter would have to be around the unclean, bloody work of a tanner of animal hides. And this is exactly where we find Peter when his walls finally come tumbling down and he begins to fully embrace the Spirit’s work among Gentiles. It’s amazing how big our world becomes—our inner world, as well as the outer—as we learn to follow the Lord.

So how about us? Are we still like the old Peter, still insistent on knowing the answers and having things go our way? Or are we learning, like the new Peter, to humble ourselves in awe and rejoicing before the Spirit’s leading. Are we willing to acknowledge God’s work among the humble, the quiet, the givers? Are we willing to join God in that work? Or must things be grand, loud, there for the taking? Finally, are we willing to get our hands dirty on behalf of others? There is no telling what God is already doing around us. There is only the doing, the watching, the sharing in the life of the church, and the offering what little we might have for the sake of others. But in such humble doings, we encounter the very power and life of God as his kingdom comes into the midst of a lowly sewing room.