Yes, yes, I know. We are two months after the Feast of Stephen. But I have been reflecting on him the past few Sundays because when I am standing by the credence table during the 9:15 and 11:15 services, I am facing his window, which is by the offertory table. My reflections have been on what his life suggests about the meaning of life.
What if the whole purpose of someone’s life – mine perhaps, or maybe yours – is just to die at a particular time and in a particular place and in a particular manner. And that all of life beforehand – all of it’s accomplishments, its learning, its trials, tribulations and triumphs and its contributions to the welfare of others – was just maintenance until a final defining and maybe sudden moment that was one’s unforeseen destiny.
That is something I see in the life and death of Stephen. Yes, he was a deacon; yes, he managed the distribution of the resources of the early churches to the needy; yes, he was a gifted preacher. But all that pales in comparison to the manner of his dying when stoned to death — stoned to death in front of Saul who approved of his murder; dying in such a way that Saul is so moved that he has his profound conversion experience while leading an army to Damascus to round up and murder more Christians; converted so profoundly that he, now renamed Paul, ceases to be a terrifying persecutor but the boldest and most effective spokesman for the way that he has been persecuting.
And it didn’t stop there. Then came Paul’s letters, with some of the most influential words ever set to paper, influencing the mind of mankind for centuries; all of this flowing from the death of Stephen in front of Saul who held the cloaks of those who stoned him.
I close with the second collect Of a Martyr.
“Almighty God, by your grace and power your holy martyrs triumphed over suffering and were faithful even to death. Grant us, who now remember them in thanksgiving to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 25-February-2014.