Acts 7:51-8:1; Ps 31 Into your hands O Lord, I commend my spirit John 6:30-35
We read the martyrdom of Stephen today. In fact, this particular section of Acts of the Apostles come up at leads twice a year, once immediately after Christmas on Dec 26 and once during the Easter season.
Immediately after Christmas we are invited to give witness to Stephen's martyrdom. As soon as the Prince of Peace is born into the world we turn our attention to the violence that thrusts itself upon all those who choose to follow his pathway of peace. We are remind that there are those in the world who do not want to follow but rather prefer to lead.
During the Easter season we are once again asked to give witness to Stephen's martyrdom. Again we realize that to some in the world the good news of the resurrection is not considered so good. There are those who rail against the news of the empty tomb and against Jesus who is risen.
We must not be naive. This is what the church proclaims to us. Following Jesus will not simply be a stroll in the park on a sunny day. It will not be all sugar and spice and every one play nice. It will require a commitment and a conviction.
What struck me about the act of Stephen's martyrdom today was the last line of the reading 7:60, "Then Stephen fell on his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them," and when he said this, he fell asleep."
Notice the writer doesn't say Stephen died or that he was killed but rather that he fell asleep.
Early on the resurrection became a part of the Christians subconscious. They were conscious aware that death was no longer final. The new existence brought to world by Jesus' resurrection was not to be an isolated event but rather it was to belong to us who believe as well.
So Stephen doesn't die but rather falls asleep until he is awaken again.
We need to rediscover that hope and that reality in our life. To often we speak about death as if it were that which defeats us or take our life. But this isn't true at all. Death is a transition that opens to the fullness of life.
We speak about illness being terminal. But is it terminal. Is anything terminal now that the resurrection has been gifted to us and we have been grafted on to him who has risen.
In fact the early church called their cemeteries not cities of the dead like the greeks but rather dormitories, places of rest.
Stephen fell asleep until he is awaken. Death is no longer terminal, it ha snot sting, Jesus Christ stands victorious and we stand with him.
How do we live this reality out in our life today? How do our words and actions reflect this truth?