There is an elephant in this room. Today we will speak of it. Indeed, we will even name it.

I live in North Pulaski County. Someone has even spoken of it as scenic North Pulaski County. We moved there a number of years ago mainly because the place had a barn – a horse barn. It didn’t really have enough land – pasture – for our horses but we made do with what we had.

One day the place next to us – which did have a good-sized pasture – came up for sale. So, we bought it. It also had an old house on it. We didn’t know exactly to do with the house so we rented it.

Tabitha is an unusual name. We rented the house to a lady with that name. She was a good person. She was a single mother with a couple of kids. Life was not easy for her but the rent was not much and she and the kids enjoyed living in the country.

She was a good-hearted person and reminds me of the woman we hear about in our reading from Acts who was also named Tabitha. She was kind, thoughtful – she even sewed clothes for others – she was good in a real, tangible sort of way– sort of like a mother, sort of like our mothers. It’s good to be talking about Tabitha on this, Mother’s Day.

Tabitha was also a disciple of the man named Jesus. So, when Tabita died her friends contacted one of Jesus’ closest disciples who happened to be nearby. And Peter came. And through Peter the great Elephant in the room – which we don’t like to talk about – death – was defeated – and Tabitha lived.

Our longest reading this morning happens to be from Revelation. And for those who might be paying attention to this sort of thing it is the third straight reading we have had from Revelation in three weeks. It is a revelation or vision or series of them revealed to John and which he put down in writing. The church has puzzled about them ever since.

Are there other revelations or visions mentioned in the New Testament?

There is one by Paul mentioned in Second Corinthians, Chapter 12. Paul visited Corinth maybe three times over several years. He loved the people. But they have been listening to some self-described “super” apostle who disparages Paul and would seek to undo his good work. Among other things this “super” apostle tells of divine visions and revelations which he claims – brags – to have received. A type of claim on the part of religious charlatans not unusual in that day.

So, Paul shares something of a revelation – a vision – that he received.

But he does not share much. He describes it this way, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows…and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter…”

So now let us listen again to part of John’s vision:

I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…robed in white, with palm branches in their hands….

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying ‘who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’

I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal…”

These are they who have come out of the great ordeal…

We are witness in these days to a great ordeal being presently suffered by a people of a certain country on a day-by-day basis. A “great ordeal” would probably be about as good a description as one could find for what they are suffering.

Day by day it continues. Buildings, apartment buildings, homes are bombed, destroyed, turned into desolate ruins that remind us of the worst horrors of past wars. Men, women, children…lives lost, death.

It makes academic solemn philosophical discussions of what constitutes “Evil. “Is there really such a thing as Evil? the professor asks rhetorically to his class while the only noise is the quite hum of a lawnmower outside as a workman trims the well- manicured lawn of a tree-shaded campus. Meanwhile the noise and terror and the horror of war continues and people die.

Thoughts maybe that we have had that we are at times “too judgmental” maybe now turn to the question Where is justice? Where is Justice? Is there no justice for the lost lives, for the destruction, for the death…?

But maybe the hope of our hearts for justice – our recognition that there truly is evil – is in itself a recognition that there is good. That some things are wrong – terribly wrong – implies we know that – also – some things are right, are good, are just…

And if that is so – and we do believe it is so – then it implies that there is a something or a someone who made the world that way – who created the world – who created us – a Creator.

We are here today because we are a people – sometimes with questions, sometimes uncertain – yet we are a people who believe that this is so.

And we believe that these writings, these stories, these poems, that we call “the Bible” or the “Scriptures” tell us of this Creator, contain within them the truths of things that are right, things that are good, things that are just, that speak of love, and of the great love of our Creator for us.

Today we have heard readings that tell of a plain, humble woman who loved the Lord and who showed her love for Him by kindnesses for her friends and neighbors.

And because she loved the Lord, Death was defeated, she was brought back to life.

We also heard how the Lord Himself, rudely questioned as He was in the Temple, replied with words that should assure and comfort all who are truly disciples of His:

Jesus is walking in the Temple and is yelled at by some men. They shout at him, “Stop keeping us in suspense. If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly!’”

Jesus replies, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me. I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish…”

And then we have the words of John – the vision of the multitudes who have through the great ordeal – as they appear before the Lord. Is this a revelation, a vision, a prophecy, or a dream?

Maybe the inclusion of the story of Tabitha suggests a broader application. Maybe those who will appear before the Lord are all those who believe in the Lord, who hear His voice in their lives, and who follow Him. Maybe these are the ones to which He gives eternal life. Maybe He is speaking to us – you, me, each one of us.

And if we may be so presumptions, what will that be like?

Not too many years ago I was part of a tour group in England. We were in London and on this particular day one of the places we visited was St. Paul’s Cathedral. There, one sees various memorials to various people. Given that it is a Cathedral and is in London some of the memorials are quite impressive and some are of people with whose names we are familiar.

Being a funerary memorial, they are in a sense that person’s last statement to those of us remaining on earth.

One I recall was a funerary statue of a former Dean of St. Paul’s. It’s not as large as many of them. And it’s rather unusual in several respects. In 1666 there was a great fire – indeed that fire is remembered as “The Great Fire of London of 1666” – that fire destroyed the old St. Paul’s Cathedral. Yet this particular memorial which had been in the old cathedral survived. It is the last likeness of the man it memorializes. As described by one of his biographers – “The piece depicts [him] standing upright in his shroud, rising from his funeral urn, hands folded across his front. It is a scene from Judgement Day, an awakening soul….” (1)

In other words this is this man’s idea of what he will look like on the day he will appear before the Lord. We have seen countless cartoons of someone in a white robe standing before the pearly gates being questioned by St. Peter. Interestingly enough, Peter is the one the friends of Tabitha requested to come after her death.

Quoting further from his biographer speaking of the last moments of this man’s earthly life: “He was talking until the last minutes of his life on 31 March 1631. On falling silent, he arranged his hands and body into such a posture as required not the least alteration by those who came to shroud him.”

This man that we have discussed briefly – and described his funeral memorial, left us an even greater memorial to himself – but more importantly to the reality, truth, and goodness of God.

You see, he was a poet as well,

Following is a rough paraphrase of one of his (John Donne’s) poems:

Death, be not proud. Though some have called you

Mighty and dreadful, … you are not so…

You are slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And do with poison, war, and sickness dwell…


One sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death you shall die.



Richard Robertson


(1) John Stubbs, “John Donne, The Reformed Soul,” W.W.Norton, P.472, P.47