The Impact of One Life

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 9:36-43


Helen was the coordinator of the prayer shawl ministry. She got women together on Thursday mornings to knit and pray over the shawls, which were then given to people in the parish and beyond who needed healing or prayer. She was especially good at inviting new women into their circle–often women who had recently become widows or newcomers to the community. Over a cup of coffee and washable yarn, these women supported one another and extended prayer to those in need.


One day Helen woke up not feeling quite right. Over breakfast she slumped at her table. When her friend Abigail made her usual call to Helen mid-morning, she got no answer. The EMTs were called, but it was too late. Helen was gone.


It was a shock to the small community of faith. Helen had been a pillar of that Thursday morning group of women. But at calling hours it became evident that Helen had also made an impact in her apartment complex. She had given out so many shawls and made so many visits to others, just to ‘say hi.’ They were shocked and saddened to lose her.


We have a similar story in our first lesson today from the book of Acts of the Apostles. This book is the sequel to Luke’s gospel, telling about how the message of Jesus and his way of life spread from Jerusalem to all Israel, and eventually to all the known world. Joppa was the seaport for Jerusalem, and it hosted a community of these first Christians. Among the disciples of this community was a woman named Tabitha, also known as Dorcas. She was well known for her good works and acts of charity, and she was especially beloved among the widows.


We enter the story at the scene of Tabitha’s wake. Her beloved friends prepared her body for viewing, and invited the community to join them in an upper room. The widows of the community brought the garments that Tabitha had made for them. Together they shared stories and tears about Tabitha, and touched the tunics Tabitha had made.


It is a familiar scene. Almost 2000 years have passed, and we still do the same things when a loved one dies.

  • We gather.
  • We remember.
  • We share mementos of that person’s life and the love they shared.


But Tabitha’s wake was special, in part because of the witness of her life. She had made an impact that might have surprised her. Such an impact that the community sent two men to seek out Peter–

  • Peter, who was the leader of the Jesus’ movement
  • Peter, who had been with Jesus when he raised Jairus’ little daughter from the dead.
Peter saw the garments, he listened to the stories, and shared in their grief and then sent everyone out of the room. He prayed as Jesus prayed, and turned to speak to the cold body. Tabitha, get up. And the woman got up. Peter took her to her friends, alive.

I often wonder that these junctures in bible stories, what happened next?

  • Did Tabitha go on caring for the widows?
  • Did she branch out into new acts of charity?
  • How long did she live, and what role did she play in the Christian community as the woman Peter raised from the dead?


One can imagine such endings, but the description in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is significant as it is. 

  • Tabitha is named as a disciple.
  • In Jesus’ lifetime, the named disciples were all men.
  • Tabitha is living proof of the words of the prophet Joel proclaimed by Peter


In chapter two of Acts were coming to pass:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters would prophesy…

Even on my slaves, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit.


The new community of Jesus was not bound by social rank or gender roles. Tabitha was filled with the Holy Spirit. Tabitha was a leader in a time of hierarchical power structures and dominated by men. Tabitha is a sign of the new thing God was doing in Jesus.


Not only that, Tabitha was a servant who made a deep and abiding impact in her community. Her effectiveness in ministry was evident from the people who poured out to remember her. Beyond these brief stories of her first life ministry, she became the woman raised from the dead– a witness who undoubtedly shared that resurrection story with others; a sign that death is not the final end for any of us.


Which brings me back to Helen. When it came time to plan for Helen’s funeral, and the women of the prayer shawl group wanted to do something special. So they reached out to the people of the congregation and the apartment complex and asked that they bring their prayer shawls, made by Helen and her crew, to the funeral. They figured they could decorate the altar rail with the shawls as a remembrance of Helen’s care.


The day of the funeral came, and person after person came in with a prayer shawl on their arm. They covered the altar rail, then the front pews, then all around the sanctuary. Eventually there were over a hundred shawls in that little church! Together they remembered Helen and the many prayers she lifted up, stitch by stitch. They remembered her invitations and her little check ins, “just to say hi.” They remembered her ministry, her discipleship. As they did, they felt their broken hearts knit back together, bit by bit.


The story of Tabitha is about the promise of the resurrection. We often think about that life after death, eternal life in heaven with Jesus. But this story is also about the witness of one person’s life, the powerful impact that someone empowered by the Holy Spirit can make in the world. This seems to me that this another meaning of resurrection. If resurrection is life beyond death, then that is what this kind of legacy of love does. It creates life in others that extends beyond the boundaries of one lifetime and is passed on from one generation to the next.


Helen and Tabitha made a deep impact in the lives of others. We can, too. Let us open ourselves to the power of Jesus and his resurrection to create new life in and through us, and in ways large and small, we, too, might be a part of his life and his healing, his resurrection in the world. Amen.

One Response to “The Impact of One Life”

  1. Kathy Whited says:

    Pastor Julie, this is such a timely message and so meaningful with the timing of Phyllis Reed’s death and the impact she had on many of us. Of course, nothing compares to the impact of Jesus! God bless and thank you for sharing! – Kathy

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