“Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.”
The people send for Peter, because Peter is friends with Jesus. We all do this, right? When I have a cold, I may text my friend with something like, “I feel miserable, say a little prayer for me,” but when I am having surgery, I want the priest there anointing!
The widows surround her body weeping, holding the garments her hands had made. Peter arrives, kneels down next to her bed, and prays. The scriptures tell us that “he prayed, and turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.” With the help of his hand, indeed even rose to standing. Tabitha is called a disciple of Jesus. She turned her faith into serving women in need of everything, continuously. She is known to us because she lived again after she had been dead.
Recently my husband read the gospel during church. He read, “but when they tried to enter, they were not wearing…” and as he pauses for a breath, I immediately filled in the next word: “masks…” After his breath, the true words of the parable were spoken: “wedding robes.” Oops. I’m thinking in the words of the year 2020 again.
We know so very little of Tabitha, and while what we do know is admirable, it comprises but a few words of description, and there are many women I know today, who give to the church monetarily and by caring for widows. Today as I read this, my mind goes to the tension I’ve felt all year. How do we go when we are called when we aren’t supposed to go anywhere?
I wrote a letter in support of the mask ordinance in my city! I’ve hosted family gatherings outdoors! I’ve laid down the law about my teenagers not shopping at Target on weekends! When my friend with the new baby and a toddler in tow was feeling sick, I took her a meal. I dropped it on the porch and sent a text. Stay away from the virus! After all, the hospitals won’t even let my priest husband anoint his parishioner having a hip replacement. I have children with compromised lungs, hearts, immune systems! The Bishop won’t even let us have the blood of Christ.
There’s the tension: We must love our neighbor, but we must also stay away.
That unease inside my soul swelled when early on, my clergy spouse friend said, “priests have to minister to the dying, but there should be an exemption for people like your husband, who has children at higher risk in his family.” Then my daughter stood incredulous, when the nurse on the phone asked if she had a fever, body aches, vomiting, or had been exposed to COVID that she knew of. The answer to all these symptoms was no, and so they could let us in to be seen by the doctor. In other words, if you are not sick, you may be seen by a doctor.
I read about Tabitha again, and I learn from Peter. When the people called for Peter, did he ask if what she died of was contagious? This is hard, and I don’t have the answers. The tension within me is so great, when I think of all those in history who have put their lives on the line in the service of others, knowing full well that it could mean not only their lives but the lives of the people they were in community with. The tension set in the moment that church was cancelled. I thought of the man marked with the scars from a whip, out of prison and back in his underground church. Because it was his “duty and his delight.”
Now we are doing life in masks, and my hands sting with the use of more sanitizer, and I think about Mother Teresa taking that first dying person to the hospital, and being rejected. I think about her caring for the poorest and sickest, wiping maggots out of their eyes, knowing that she surely did not ask if they had been in contact with anyone contagious in the last two weeks.
I can wear a mask or gloves or any manner of PPE if I must, but the question really isn’t “how do I stay virus free,” but rather “how fast can I get there.” Because Christ died for my fear of suffering, and Christ has victory over death. When the people call in sickness and in fear and in need of healing, it is we, the friends of Jesus, who must go.
[Image Credit: Mourning Tabitha, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56889]