HOMILY – 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:36-43 / Psalm 23 / Revelation 7:9-17 / John 10:22-30
The Liturgy of today is so full of extraordinary themes and invitations to us. We are in the season of the Great 50 Days of Easter – a time that summoned the early Christian community to reflect on the mysteries of the faith they celebrated at Easter. Now, and for 50 days time, is given for us to further reflect on these mysteries and deepen the faith that was confirmed or renewed in our Baptismal promises at Easter. Now is the time to seriously hear God’s voice in new ways.
The recounting of Tabitha’s return to life, in the Acts of the Apostles, is a very touching story. Tabitha, a widow, was so loved by her community and obviously a devout Christian in active service to people. She is a tailor, a seamstress, clothing the community with fabrics but also with love.
In the early church, up to the 6th century, there was an Order of Widows. These were senior women, respected intercessors, who prayed over the sick and laid hands on them. These women were sometimes associated with bishops, presbyters and deacons as “ecclesiastical dignitaries” and sometimes they were even considered as part of the clergy.
So you see how significant Tabitha was to the community. Therefore, her death was an immense loss. And so, Peter is summoned. He prays and calls on the presence of God and addresses Tabitha with the simple command: “Tabitha, get up!”
Tabitha hears the voice of God through Peter and she rises. Certainly, a resurrection event for all and a lesson for us. Through Baptism, we are empowered to call forth the Spirit of God with in us and bring life to others, even those who appear dead. Let us befriend Tabitha, who can lead us deeper into the mysteries of our faith and Baptismal commitment.
The Psalm that follows this reading is the beloved Shepherd Psalm (23) . The Lord is my Shepherd. Even as Tabitha walked through the valley of death, she heard the Shepherd’s voice through Peter. Frequently, as a volunteer chaplain at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, when I am called to pray with a person, this is the psalm I pray with the patient and family. So many emotions and faith experiences are present in this psalm. It closes with hope and newness of life: you spread a table before me – goodness and kindness will follow me – I will fear no evil. The signs and words of resurrection are very present in this psalm. Consider, “he makes me lie down in green pastures”, “he leads me beside still waters”, “you have anointed my head with oil”, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.
Our readings move us from Tabitha and hearing the voice of the Shepherd, to the Book of Revelation with the great multitude standing before the throne of God. The new resurrected life in God through Jesus, opens salvation to every creature – every nation, tribe, people and language. All worship God in their varying ways. What a wonderful setting of inclusivity and diversity. The vision is set before us: come out of your structures of separation and discover the many ways that the multitude of nations all say, “Blessing, glory, wisdom and thanksgiving to our God”. Having come out of the great ordeal, as stated in the Book of Revelation, we stand before God who will shelter us. There will be no more hunger or thirst because the Lord, the Shepherd, has spread a table for everyone. This is our faith: a faith we are called to deepen and enlarge.
The global vision in passages from Revelation, about all tribes, nations, peoples coming together before the throne of God may sound glorious but the living of it calls for faith, compassion, understanding and love. Each of these takes hard work; each of which is worth it.
The voice of God has been heard by many in today’s readings. But the Gospel urges us Christians to recognize the voice of Jesus and follow him. As many of us, who have animals or pets know, they can recognize a person’s voice and trust that person. I say this about animals but it is also true about humans. When we recognize another’s voice, because they have proven trustworthy. we are more likely to have confidence in them and follow with ease.
Jesus’ voice promises us eternal life and protection with him. Belief in these promises can be a deep act of trust, especially in our present times when we see so many troubling things unfoldings in our world. Some ways of thinking, acting and believing can cause concern and even sadness. Change is all around us. We are urged to remain in relationship with all people and trust in God’s evolving way for the future.
We might say that charity or love of God shows itself in how we think and in what we do. Tabitha’s charitable heart was evident in her care for others; Jesus’ charitable heart was obvious in his whole life, death and resurrection. His resurrected life infused all creation.
I would be remiss if I didn’t connect the Word of God this day with the nation’s celebration of Mother’s Day. Two medieval mystics, in particular, saw the integration of God, mothering and nature. One spiritual mystic is the 13th century German Dominican philosopher and theologian Meister Eckhart ( 1260-1328). He said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born in our world”.
And in another tribute to the natural world and to mothers, is the Benedictine nun, musician, environmentalist, and scientist, Hildegard of Bingen (12c / 1098-1179) wrote in the 12th century: :
“The earth is at the same time Mother. She is Mother of all that is natural, Mother of all that is human; She is the Mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all life.”
By his resurrection, Jesus showed that nature is a sacrament, which reveals God’s presence to us. We need to watch and listen to the voice of God in all that surrounds us. We can hear and see the incarnate and resurrected Christ in all reality.
We just need to listen and hear God’s voice saying,
“Tabitha, get up…………People, of St. Michael’s- get up,
All you nations and tribes – get up.
It’s time for new life!”
Rosemarie Greco, DW