(Easter 4c, 4/17)
“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha…” (Acts 9:36a)
My Grandma was a quilter.
In their retirement years, my grandparents moved to the Ozark woods, and watched birds, and grew vegetables, and went to church, and walked gravel roads, and fished, and my Grandma cut up swaths of calico fabrics and stitched them back together again into intricate patchwork patterns. She bound the layers of each blanket by hand, one tiny stitch at a time for thousands of stitches. Every bed in her house–and many of the beds in all of our own houses–was dressed with one of her quilts.
And when she died, the vestibule of the funeral home was decked with photos, and her quilts. were draped over the tables and hung as backdrops on the walls. And all of us gazed at her face in the pictures, and at the work of her hands around the room: a lifetime made up of small important acts, small deep loves, small sturdy stitches.
Women have been doing this for ages: filling the world around them with acts, with loves, with handwork. In Acts, the women of Tabitha’s village gathered at her death, weeping, gazing over all the works of her hands: letting the fabrics slide through their fingers, examining the stitches that shaped the garments, remembering the capable hands that had made them.
But Tabitha wasn’t just a sewist. She was a disciple, stitching together “good works and acts of charity” just as surely as she could make a robe or a tunic.
This is the only time in Acts where a woman is specifically called a disciple. In fact, it is the only New Testament use of the feminine form of the Greek word for disciple: “mathetria.” Though the widows weeping at her death focus their attention on her seamwork, Tabitha’s material accomplishments are a tangible, touchable reminder of her spiritual commitments. A reminder of a life full of important acts, deep loves, sturdy stitches.
A life that was not yet ready to end.
I wonder if Tabitha went back to her sewing after Peter restored her to life? Did she have a work in progress that she could pick up and continue to completion? Did she wonder how much more good she could do, how many more acts of charity she could fit in, how many more tunics she could create?
Did she learn to see each row of stitches as a timeline stretching forward, and each individual loop of thread as a gift of love?