OT: Psalm 23
NT: Acts 9.36-43
Jesus’ last words to his disciples in John were what? "Feed my sheep."
If last week’s story about Peter’s three acceptances of Jesus (after his three denials) began his redemption, this week’s story confirms it. Because they start feeding the sheep. In the time after Jesus’ resurrection, when the work of the church and the beginning of Christianity is left to the disciples alone, Peter picks up where Jesus left off. If the outline of this story sounds familiar to you, it should. The same thing happened to the disciples time and time again in Jesus’ day.
A sick woman needs help. She dies. They aren’t ready to accept that fate. If Jesus was still around, they would’ve sent for him just like Mary and Martha did when Lazarus was ill or when the father’s daughter died in their home. But Jesus isn’t around anymore, so they send for Peter.
Immediately, he goes to see her. He prays over her body. He commands her to get up. If this story sounds familiar, it should. You’ve heard many versions in the Gospels before. She listens. She lives. Peter helps her stand. Words spreads like wildfire, and it convinces many people of the power of Christianity.
The point of the story, at least to me, is that life after death takes all forms. Most often, we think about life after death as life with God, in heaven, or elsewhere, depending on how good (or not) we’ve been. But there’s another kind of life after death it’s particularly important to remember during the Easter season. Let me tell you what I’m talking about.
Several years ago, out of the clear blue, we received a large check in the mail from a man in Connecticut whose mother was a member here at the church when he was a boy. His name was Walter Eads. His donation is what allowed us to add the bathrooms downstairs for us and our workcamp program. I called him on the phone after we got that donation and asked him what had inspired him to do such a thing. He said, “I was just sitting in my chair one day, thinking about days gone by in Ronceverte at the church, and God told me to help the church. I was surprised about the amount he told me to give, but, oh well.”
We kept in touch. Tom Long’s uncle also knew him, and they kept in touch as well. We sent him pictures of the bathrooms and church newsletters. Then, on Easter of 2015, Mr. Eads died. He died peacefully, and while he didn’t have family, he was surrounded by his church family in hospice care. When he couldn’t drive to church anymore, someone from the church went and picked him up each week. He lived a long and pleasing life, serving his community and sowing seeds of goodness from Washington State to West Virginia to Connecticut.
Then, on Easter of this year, the church received a letter in the mail from a law firm. It was a big, thick, official-looking packet of information, sent to my attention. I nearly didn’t open it, because I was afraid we were being sued…on Easter weekend of all times. But I decided even if that were true I needed to know, so I opened it. It was from a law firm in Connecticut charged with settling Mr. Eads’ estate, and it included a check with more zeros than I have ever seen. With no instructions for use, other than to use as needed to God’s glory in Ronceverte.
When we think of life after death, we usually think of our afterlife. But what sort of life do we leave for others after we’ve gone? That’s the kind of afterlife Jesus taught Peter and the disciples and was the reason they picked up his mantle and continued his work by healing Tabitha. That’s the kind of afterlife Walter Eads exhibited in sharing his gifts.
Walter is in good company with the saints who have come and gone, leaving behind a rich history of good works that inspire generations to come. He’s in league with Tabitha, who continued to live on with the disciples because of her good works.
This is still Easter. The Easter season. A season of life beyond death. Not just the afterlife, but the life that keeps on living after you die. Walter left resources. Tabitha left an inspiration to serve. Others leave unconditional love. Others challenge us to be our best selves. What will your legacy be? Amen.