Thought for the Day by Angela Birkin from St Michael’s:
Stephen was a deacon in the early church whose ministry was to imitate the service and humility of Christ by distributing food to those in need. However, it wasn’t serving food which got Stephen into trouble, but his power of speech challenging the religious authorities and he was condemned to death by stoning. In the end Stephen prayed for his killers that God would not hold their sin against them including a certain young man named Saul who kept his hands clean of the deed but made sure that it was done.
Luke tells us that Stephen’s Christian friends buried him with great sadness. They were burying the first person to give their life for their faith in Jesus Christ, the first Christian martyr.
The word ‘martyr’ is Greek for ‘witness’ and that is what Jesus Christ asks all of us to be: people who are willing to pay the price of telling the truth that is in us whether that is telling of our faith, or challenging injustice, or defending someone who can’t speak for themselves. There are all kinds of situation where witness is required, and they are nearly always scary, but it is to this that we are called as followers of Jesus Christ recognising that fear does not have the last word. Stephen stood up and he witnessed. Now it is over to us.
St. Stephen by Malcolm Guite
Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,
Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.
They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,
And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.
When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter
He had to pass through that Damascus gate
Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter
As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,
And showed him the same light you saw from heaven
And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;
Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’
But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
Each martyr after you adds to his story,
As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory.