Saturday in the Third Week of Easter, Spring Assembly of the Daughters of the King, St. Philip’s Church, Donelson, April 20, 2024

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas” (Acts 9:36).

It’s a pleasure to preach and celebrate for our Tennessee Daughters of the King today, especially with our first reading, the story of Tabitha or Dorcas. It’s a story of resurrection, appropriate for Eastertide, the annual fifty-day long celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Our gathering in Spring Assembly places us firmly in that season, reminding us that the work we’re called to as Christians is rooted in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and carries forward the good news.

But first, there are some things we need to know about this remarkable woman. This is the only mention of her in the New Testament, and when Luke, the author of Acts, describes her he uses a unique word, one that only occurs here. Our translation renders it as “disciple,” but a more literal translation would be “woman disciple,” like the extraordinary women who an ancient writer tells us were “woman disciples” or students of the philosopher Plato (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers). This is the only time this word is used. Unlike the women who were associated with Jesus in his ministry, and other women who were leaders in the early church, Tabitha or Dorcas gets her own unique description, perhaps signifying a particular gift.

Then there’s her name: the Aramaic “Tabitha” or the Greek “Dorcas,” meaning in both cases “gazelle.” The gazelle is not native to Tennessee, but I guess most of us know that it’s a sleek and swift animal, simple in bearing and elegant in aspect. In the Old Testament, in the Song of Solomon, it says, “My beloved in like a gazelle or a young stag” (Sg. of Sol. 2:9). “You are altogether beautiful, my love, there is no flaw in you” (Sg. of Sol. 4:7), King Solomon writes a little later. There’s no way the name bestowed upon her by her parents could completely determine who she would turn out to be, but I like to think of Tabitha as a kind of Coco Chanel type, blessed with elegance, transposed into New Testament times.

Whatever simplicity and elegance she may have possessed, our Gazelle was best known for putting it to use in good works and acts of charity. In the story, the older women show Peter the many tunics and cloaks that Dorcas had made for the members of the Church – so maybe there’s something to my dress design analogy, after all, evidence of a nascent couturier at work! The point is that these articles of clothing were charitable works that helped provide for members of the community in Joppa, supplying their need. In the midst of their grief over her death, the Church remembered our Gazelle’s largeness of heart.

I said this was a story of resurrection, and it is: not of course like the resurrection of Jesus, which didn’t just restore him to life but raised him to a totally different kind of life: the same new life promised to us. Dorcas was only given her life back through Peter’s ministry; like Lazarus, in the Gospel of John, restored to life by Jesus’ command. But in describing what’s happening, Luke uses words that recall Jesus’ own resurrection, pointing toward the significance of this miracle.

Peter tells her, “Tabitha, arise” (Acts 9:40): the same word used in accounts of how God raised Jesus from the dead. When Peter presents her to the members of the Church, he shows them that she is “alive” (Acts 9:41): again, the same word used in the first chapter of Acts as Luke recaps the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Luke believes that the disciples, like Peter and Paul and Philip the Deacon, and others like Tabitha, are carrying forward Jesus’ own ministry. The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in them, as it was on the Day of Pentecost, breathing new life into the members of the Church.

That power is at work in us as well, including the Daughters of the King gathered here. God was at work in the graceful Gazelle, and he is at work in your ministries too. Congregation by congregation in the Diocese of Tennessee, the Holy Spirit is raising us to new life. It says at the end of the reading today that as people heard what had happened in Joppa “many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). God grant that many may come to believe in the Lord as they see your good works, and the power of God that shines forth in you.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee