36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the twenty-second day of Easter, the fourth Sunday of Easter. Every year the fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we hear and sing several beautiful settings of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm.
During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the world-changing, life-transforming activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel readings are from John.
The same Luke who compiled the gospel put together the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's gospel is volume 1, Acts is volume 2; people sometimes refer to the pair as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a pattern similar to Luke as it records events Doctor Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.
This account begins, "Now in Joppa..." Besides in the Acts of the Apostles, where else in the bible do we hear about Joppa, that's now usually called Jaffa? Jonah 1:3 – "So Jonah went down to Joppa," bought a ticket and boarded a ship for Tarshish in his attempt to run away from the Lord.
This is the only place in Acts that uses the feminine word for apostle. Last week when we discussed the conversion of the apostle Paul, we learned Saul was his Hebrew/Jewish name, Paul was his Greek name. Depending on where he was and with whom he interacted, he always was both Saul and Paul. In today's scripture pericope or selection, the woman Peter raises from death to life is Dorcas in Greek, Tabitha in Aramaic. Pastor Peg mentioned retired United Methodist bishop Will Willimon (check out his writing! Although he's very theological, he presents complex ideas very clearly) suggests the "room upstairs" reference in verse 37 is an additional way Luke uses to identity Tabitha/Dorcas as Jesus' disciple because it connects her with the upper room experiences of Jesus' male disciples.
Verse 40: before taking action, Peter sends everyone else outside and intently prays in order to discern what God would have him do. Peter's word commands Tabitha to"get up" and (Verse41) he takes her hand and helps her up. Jesus still raises the dead! In baptism we receive the Spirit of Resurrection! For the apostle Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection.
Verse 43: Peter then stayed for a while in Joppa with Simon the tanner. Tanners made shoes, clothes, saddles, and other items from the hide of dead animals. Contact with dead carcasses made Simon ceremonially unclean. Peter associating with Simon reflects the radical inclusion of women, social underclasses, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized people we hear about in Luke's gospel; this trajectory continues in the book of Acts and during the later history of the church.