This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on April 17, 2016.
The title given this book by our tradition is Acts, or more precisely, The Acts of the Apostles, and it is a story of that for sure, but not just that. One could also say it is a story of the Acts of God, which would have been a fine heading as well. Actually the best and most accurate title would have been, The Acts of the Apostles in Response to and in Synchronicity with, the Acts of God. The early Christians likely knew this was the case, but this dissertation-like title would have taken way too much papyrus, so… Acts it was and Acts it remains.
However short the title, the larger emphasis is important because on every page of this work there is a story where someone… an apostle, a believer, a seeker, an adversary, or the Holy Spirit is acting and acting in response to some other action or incident or imitative or hunch or conversation or crisis. Everything and everyone seems connected (because, of course, it is). Chapter upon connected chapter, there is a mystical unfolding where the Church must surely say over and again, “well, how ‘bout that!!!!” It is surprise upon surprise and new thing upon new thing. God is at work but so too are the awakened ones, each responding to the other or… THE OTHER.
It’s fitting that, centuries later, we read these texts just after Easter, needing to be caught up again in a reality that is magic and not so mundane. Our heart’s intuition, and the witness of our faith, is that life is very mysterious and abundantly connected and we want to, we need to step trustfully into that synchronicity as Easter people. Easter life swings on the hinges that there is Something at work beyond our something. The door opens for us with that curious engagement with life, just as it did for the first followers. The apostles just seem to just be following the next clue in their itinerate lives.
Peter was wandering about in chapter nine and makes his way to Lydda where he “found” bed ridden Aeneas, who hops up “immediately” as Peter prays and the healing “turns” many to faith, and then there is a miraculous domino to Joppa where Tabitha is raised from the dead, the news of which, understandably, gave rise to belief. All this happens in just a few paragraphs. But then, it happens like that on every page in Acts… resurrection, faith-turning, belief-raising kinds of things, one act and actor co-mingling with the next in holy synchronicity.
We sort of get the feeling as we read Acts that the whole world seems elevated for a time into the Kingdom of God where the limitations of this realm are not reigning. There are different rules in that realm… and the Apostles are simply trusting what is happening and then and saying again, “Well… how ‘bout that!!!”
It was electric in those early days. Is it still? Can it still be that way? We do wonder but with sanctuary white still draped and lilies still fragrant, it is the world to which we are called during Eastertide.
The two miracles in this Lectionary Text from chapter 9 have a good bit of gospel resonance. “Get up and roll up your mat,” Peter says to the man paralyzed for many years, echoing the language Jesus uses in chapter five of John. The writer of Acts says he got up, “Immediately… at once” again a mirroring of the healing at the pool and other miracles in the Gospels. The raising of Tabitha has many parallels with Mark 5, where Jesus (the well-known miracle worker) is sent for, enters a house full of mourners who were ordered out of the room, and says “get up,” a command that is obeyed by the diseased. There is clearly a consciousness about the way these stories are told in the early Church. The parallel language may be a way of reinforcing that Jesus is still at work. Peter makes this emphasis by saying, “Jesus Christ heals you,” underlining that the Church’s ministry is an extension of the Incarnation.
The miracle of Tabitha, who was dead but presented alive, also has obvious spiritual connections to Easter. She was beloved… “always doing good and helping the poor.” The other disciples are gathered by their love and in their pain. This is often the state of God’s people, coming together, banding together because of what the world does to us… to anybody and everybody. We face death together in so many ways and yet we gather and yet we hope for new life. This is our familiar place.
Is it coincidental that this rebirth… this movement from death to life… takes place in Joppa, Jonah’s Old Testament Joppa? This is the archetypal story of beginning again and a story that Jesus clearly identified with when he says that the only sign given will be the sign of Jonah. Jonah is a story of descent… down to Joppa, down in the ship, down in the water, down in the fish. Tabitha goes down too, which is the path of every follower. Death leads to life. The way down is the way up.
The author never really lingers with a miracle story in Acts, which seems important. Someone was raised to new life and lots of folks believed because of it and then the story moves on in its usual connected way. We hear that Peter stays in Joppa for a while and in the home of Simon the Tanner. A great set up to and synchronicity with the next story. A stay at Simon’s house for Peter was a prerequisite for the next great seeing, which will be considered with the next lectionary reading.
For this Eastertide text on this Sunday, it is enough to say that this orthodox Jew, living in this unclean home, with an unclean tanner, was a miracle too. But it’s presented here in an “off-the-cuff” way. Most of the miracles we get are more like “off-the-cuff,” likely not noticed, but still amazing for those disciples with Easter eyes. Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner, “Well, how ‘bout that!!!”
Dr. Burt Burleson
University Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Life
Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Tags: synchronicity, mystical unfolding, miracles and belief