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. Acts 9:40
One of the appointed lectionary readings for today is about the raising of Dorcas (or Tabitha in Aramaic). It is an interesting story that is sandwiched between two very important events in the course of the growth of the church. The preceding story is of Saul/Paul’s conversion and traces his commissioning as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-31). What comes after (Acts 10) is the account in which Peter, the leading apostle, is confronted on his racism. And with it, the mission of the church breaks out of its geographical boundaries and also crosses the ethnic barriers which remained.
The story of Dorcas and the one just before about the healing of the paralytic Aeneas, showcase Peter’s ministry as a witness for Jesus, not only by word but also by deed. They each recall incidences of Jesus own ministry when he healed the paralytic (Mark 2:11) and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:41). Many commentators point out how similar the words that Peter used were to those of Jesus’ in his ministry. This suggests that Peter learned well from what he had observed and was now doing as Jesus did.
Why is this important? I have entitled this article “practice resurrection,” and in pointing to the raising of Dorcas/Tabitha from the dead, you might think that I am encouraging that we should all learn to similarly raise the dead. However, what Peter did was not resurrection. Rather he resuscitated Dorcas/Tabitha. She eventually died and is herself now still awaiting the resurrection. So, what does this title mean?
I have actually borrowed it from a poem by Wendell Berry, entitled “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” His point is that Easter Christians should live like Jesus did, with minds set on things above, rather than on things below. He points out that we too often: “Love the quick profit, the annual raise vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.” Instead, he tells us, “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.” And in doing this we “practice resurrection.”
This being the case, we find that Dorcas/Tabitha was herself one who truly practiced resurrection because “She was full of good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36). Peter arrived in Joppa after being summoned at her death, to find the people who had been touched by her generous life, extremely distraught at her passing. She had made a real difference in their lives and they were justifiably disconsolate.
In this way, to practice resurrection essentially means to live life in the light of the resurrection. We are to become people who live in the reality of eternity, not allowing the things of this world to determine our sense of value, worth and worthiness. We must become people who make a difference in the world around us. One way to think of it is if we are gone, will people really miss us? Have we been living for ourselves, or for others? Do we love God with all our being, and as a result then love our neighbours as ourselves?
I am guessing that most of us already know this. But how many of us really do this? I know that I have failed to really live up to this. I find myself mostly living for myself in the main, with the occasional bursts of selfless, other-centred living. And even on those rare occasions, I almost always end up secretly patting myself on the back for my wonderful actions, showing once again that I don’t really have an altruistic bone in my wretched, sinful body. How about you?
Yet as resurrection Christians, we do not despair. Paul tells us, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). Knowing this allows us to lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. We must “not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
So, living the life we are called to as Christians it isn’t a matter of exercising greater will-power, but about a greater surrender of ourselves to God’s power. To allow what is lifeless, and broken within us to be resurrected. To be revived. And that is what true revival is about. It begins with us, and then through us, God brings revival to the world. This is the message of Easter. This is what it means to practice resurrection.