Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 12, 2019

YEAR C 2019 easter 4

Easter 4, 2019
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, today is what we call “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  The fourth Sunday of Easter is always called Good Shepherd Sunday.  And, in January, when we celebrate St. Timothy Sunday here at St. Timothy’s, we will also have a gospel reading with Jesus saying that he is the Good Shepherd.  So, twice a year, every year, there’s an opportunity to talk about the Good Shepherd.  Which is why this time, I’m going to talk about something else.

Dorcas.  That’s kind of an unfortunate name—to our American ears, at least.  In Aramaic, her name is Tabitha, which means gazelle, which is lovely.  But, when it gets translated into Greek, she becomes Dorcas.  We press on.

If you look over to your left, you’ll see our lovely window, depicting Dorcas and the widows.  It’s unclear at first glance whether this is Dorcas after she was raised back to life, or if it is Dorcas distributing clothing to the needy before she fell ill and died.  However, as with all good art, further study provides additional clues.  The woman on the right is carrying a basket of pomegranates.  In Greek mythology, the pomegranate is tied to the myth of Persephone and the arrival of spring, which is the rebirth of the earth each year.

For Christians, the pomegranate is a symbol of the resurrection and the hope of eternal life.  The pomegranate is associated with the Resurrection of Jesus and his followers, rather than the annual resurrection of crops.  If you look around the room, you will see lots of pomegranates and lillies in our stained glass windows.  These are symbols of resurrection to new life, which is why we decorate the Altar with lillies at Easter.  So, yeah, the overwhelming pollen at Easter can be rough, but something would be lost if we just put bowls of pomegranates up there.

Back to Dorcas.  So, given that the woman with the pomegranates is holding the hand of the woman in blue, it seems this is after Dorcas has been raised from the dead.  And the woman in front of Dorcas is showing the widows and orphans the tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made, as a reminder of why Dorcas was so beloved in the community.  There is one man depicted in the window, on the left side, holding a shepherd’s crook.  (I got nothing on this guy.)

So this window was donated in 1905 in memory of Emma Dielhenn.  My German instincts tell me to pronounce that name as Deel-hen.  But this being Ohio, the name is pronounced Dillon, at least here in Massy-own.  And, just a few blocks from here, you can find Dielhenn Avenue, which is named for the Dielhenn Petticoat Co., which employed many city residents. In 1908 the “Dry Goods Reporter” declared that Dielhenn Petticoat was America’s leading petticoat specialist.  So, you can see why our Dorcas window—featuring a woman who was known for making robes and clothing—is dedicated in memory of Emma Dielhenn, right?  Here endeth the history lesson.

Now back to the text.  Tabitha, or Dorcas, was known for her acts of charity, and is one of the first female disciples mentioned by name, after the resurrection.  She fell ill and died.  Her friends gathered together to prepare her for burial, and they call a prominent pastor, Peter.  He comes right away when he receives word.  And then, those who gathered and are in mourning tell stories and share mementoes of Dorcas’ time among them.  It sounds very much like what we do today, doesn’t it?  When someone we love dies, we gather together, share stories, call the pastor?

Then Peter sends them all outside, and he kneels down and prays.  We don’t know the content of his prayers, or what he was asking.  But eventually, he turns to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up.”  And, as we heard, she opens her eyes, sees it is Peter, and he helps her up, calling the saints and widows, showing her to be alive.

SO many interesting things about that little section!  First, we specifically heard, “he turned to the body and said . . .”  Luke, the writer of Acts, makes it clear that she is not in this body.  It is just a body.  This is not Dorcas.  This is a body.  And then, he calls her by name, and she rises from the dead.  Now I won’t stand here and tell you that I understand all this, where she went when she wasn’t in the body, or how calling her by name brings her back to life, but I will say that this sounds a lot like what will happen to each one of us when the new heaven and new earth are proclaimed.  Jesus will call us each by name, and we will rise with all the others to a new life.

And then there’s that phrase, “calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.”  What saints?!?  We had heard mention of widows earlier in the story.  But to what saints was Peter showing her?  It suggests that it’s not just the people in the room, doesn’t it?  Like maybe he’s showing Dorcas to the saints who have gone before?  Or showing her to the saints who will come after?  To me and you?  Again, I have no answers here, but Luke—unlike Mark—was careful with language, so it certainly means more than showing her to the people in the room.

Last week, I didn’t know anything about Emma Dielhenn.  And I still don’t really know much.  But I know that someone dedicated this window to her memory.  And because of that, I learned that the Dielhenns made one of the best petticoats in the country.  But the only reason I know anything at all is because of this window.  So the phrase, “In memorium” there is really most appropriate, right?  By memorializing this window, future generations are remembering and talking about Emma Dielhenn on this fourth Sunday of Easter.

And this window also honors someone named Tabitha, (or Dorcas, in Greek).  There are fifteen sentences about her in the book of Acts.  Out of 31,102 verses in the Bible, she got 8.  Ask most Christians to identify Dorcas in the Bible, and there are not many who could tell you.  Before I started as your rector, I could not have told you off the top of my head who she was without looking it up.  It’s kind of an obscure story, within the context of the whole of our scriptures.

Our beautiful window here focuses our attention on her good works and acts of charity.  The main focus of this window is showing the “tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.”  And that seems right, because we honor her for what she did before her death.  She wasn’t just some random person raised from the dead by Peter.  She was a disciple of Jesus, who used her wealth and privilege to help the people around her who needed help.  And we are reminded of those good deeds when we look at this window.

But that’s not why we know her name.  We only know the name Dorcas because she was raised from the dead.  She did laudable deeds, but we only know about those deeds because of God’s deed of raising her from the dead.  We honor her in the window for what she did before her death.  But we only even know her name because she was resurrected..

The point is not what she did with her life.  The point is that she was raised back to life.  Which is just like you and me.  Some people do great things with their lives.  Get streets named after them, and windows dedicated in their memory.  But lots of us just struggle through difficult lives, just trying to keep breathing, to keep living, to rely on the kindness of strangers.  And in God’s eyes, not one of those people is any less important than any other person.  As we heard in today’s gospel reading, not one will be snatched out of the hand of Jesus.

And at some point, like Dorcas, every single one of us will be just a body.  Waiting for Jesus to turn to us, call us by name, and say “get up.”  And then Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will call all the saints and widows to show them that we too are alive.
Get up—you are alive.


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