Now 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. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since 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.’ So 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. Peter 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. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
Peter is in demand, visiting believers, spreading the word and healing those in need. But then he gets a call, an urgent call, a believer has died. You would think this call was less urgent, Tabitha was already dead, “nothing more can be done for her, but her friends, I am sure, would appreciate a visit, so please come if you have the time”.
You sense there is something special about this woman, we are told a little of her good works; and she must be important for she is named, and it is two men who come to persuade Peter to drop everything and come with them. Indeed, we learn more about Tabitha and how much her loss will affect those who knew her, especially the widows.
What were they expecting from Peter? Had his reputation as a healer caused optimism amongst the believers that even a woman prepared for burial could be brought back to life? Or were they just hoping for someone with a bit of gravitas to lead the mourning and so they were eager to show him just what she had done for her community?
Her loss appears to be keenly felt by those closest to her ‘the widows’, and we can only imagine their sense of loss, there were no safety nets for widows at the time – Tabitha is gone, what will they do, how will they survive.
Yet, not for the first time, death does not have the final say.
We need to be careful when speaking of healing stories – people coming back to life is not normal. If she can be healed, why not others?
Yes, Tabitha had an important social role in her community, but she also had an important role as a disciple. Her ministry to the women is an example we can all take note of.
How do we minister to the marginalised and forgotten in our own communities; and how do we value those who offer such ministry?
Loving Lord, We live in a society where there are safety nets for those in need; yet there are many who still fall through the cracks. We pray for those who rely on food banks and other charities like Starter Packs; we also remember those who make the policies which seemingly condemn people to poverty. May they, and we, recognise your face in all whom we meet and do everything in our power to ensure justice is served for all people, everywhere. Amen.
The Rev’d Branwen Rees is Minister of Port Glasgow and Greenock East URC’s in Scotland.