Women live longer than men. This is as true today as it was in the first century, in the time of Jesus. I was widowed at the age of 38. It was a very dark and terrible time for me, but, as a modern day widow, I was embraced and supported by my community, I was able to own property, and I had some money.
This is not how things were for widows in the time of Christ. A widow was powerless and penniless. She was a burden on her husband’s family and had no social support. Widows were often reduced to begging or working alongside slaves or in prostitution. The bible is full of references to the extreme vulnerability of widows.
To rectify things, Jesus charges his followers to take care of widows and the early church embraces this challenge. So much so, in fact, that widows were drawn to the church, knowing that they had finally found sanctuary.
We read about a group of widows in Acts today. We are in the port city of Joppa with Tabitha and her friends. Tabitha was an important, unusual woman. She actively followed the teachings of Christ. She was always doing good and helping the poor. She was known as a fine seamstress, making beautiful tunics and robes. She taught widows this useful skill. She was an active member of her home church and bears the incredible distinction of being the only woman referred to as a disciple of Christ.
Please try to imagine how these bereaved widows must have felt when their friend Tabitha died. Her death was so consequential that Peter himself was summoned to her deathbed. Some time had passed. Her body had already been washed and laid out in an upstairs room hung with beautiful robes Tabitha had made. Peter told the crowd of crying women leave the room, then he prayed and said, “Tabitha, get up.” She sat up. Peter called out to her friends who ran into the room, crying and shouting with joy!
I’m so touched by the idea of these grieving, needy women living and working together with their friend Tabitha. When I was widowed, I found incredible solace from my friend Shirley, also a widow. She deeply understood how I felt. So must it have been with these widows of Joppa. They shared their sorrow, then turned from their grief to help others. They lived their faith in community. They did not walk alone as they followed Christ.
Think of these women, this group of sad widows following Christ together as you listen to this story please:
(tell Godly Play Good Shepherd lesson)
(Lay out underlay) Hmm, green. I wonder what this is. Sure is big.
(Blue cloth) I wonder what this could be. Nice blue.
(Dark pieces) Oooh. These are dark. Kind of scary.
(Strips) I wonder what this could be. A path? A log?
Here is another one. Maybe the path is in between.
Oh, more. Goal posts?
One more. A baseball diamond?
(Move strip open) We need a gate.
(Rest of strips) It is getting stronger. Maybe it’s a place for animals.
(Sheep) Oh! It is a place for sheep. How many are there? Help me count.
There was once someone who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things that people followed him. They couldn’t help it. They wanted to know who he was, so they just had to ask him.
(good shepherd) When they asked him, he said, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
(Move sheep and shepherd) “I know each one of the sheep by name. When I take them from the sheepfold, they follow me. I walk in front of the sheep to show them the way.”
“I show them the way to the good, tasty grass.”
(Water) “...and I show them the way to the cool, still, fresh water.” Yummm.
(Move Shepherd through black places) “When there are places of danger...”
(Move sheep with trepidation) “I show them how to go through.”
(Hide one sheep under black piece) “I count each one as the sheep go inside. Please help me count.”
(bring all sheep back to fold) “If one of the sheep is missing, I would go anywhere to look for the lost sheep.”
(Move shepherd by green, by water, through dark) “...In the grass, by the water, even in places of danger.”
(Find sheep and put on shoulders) “And when the lost sheep is found I would put it on my back, even if it is heavy and carry it back safely to the sheepfold.”
(Put everyone back in place) “When all the sheep are safe inside, I am so happy that I can’t be happy just by myself, so I invite all of my friends and we have a great feast.”
The shepherd leads his sheep as Jesus leads us to green grass and cool waters, through times of danger and grief. Our shepherd leads us toward right living. It is up to us to make the choice to follow.
We sing these lines from an old hymn, “He leadeth me! He leadeth me! By his own hand he leadeth me! His faithful follower I would be, for by his hand he leadeth me.”
Remember that these sheep, and the widows of Joppa were led by their shepherd together. Like the widows of that ancient time, we are not alone, either on our faith journey or in our lives. Like the widows, we live our faith in community. We have Christ and we have each other here to help us as we bump along our rocky paths. Christ holds out his hand to us, offering his love and guidance. Shall we take his hand and let him lead us?