On the Feast of Stephen

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 -- Christmas
Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 996)
Morning Prayer
Psalms 28, 30
2 Chronicles 24:17-22
Acts 6:1-7

Evening Prayer
Psalms 118
Isaiah 44:1-8
1 John 5:1-12

It is the day after Christmas. For many, it means a return to work; it's just another work day. Because some things were postponed for Christmas, it may be one of those days that starts with the pressure of being behind before one begins.

For those who get to take another day of holiday (holy-day) because of Christmas, it is good to remember those who can't. Yesterday our neighborhood grocery closed in the early afternoon, the only time all year that it pauses its 24-7 services. There are others who cannot stop. Some essential services continue always, and others continue by choice. I remember working on Christmas Day as a teenager. My first job was at a radio station, and we continued broadcasting on December 25 just like every other day.

Our office of Compline has a beautiful prayer that remembers those who work while others rest: O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 134)

Illness, emergency and death take no holiday. I've been struck this year by stories of several friends whose loved ones have been given an ominous diagnosis or who have died right here at Christmas. These things can color the holiday forever. All of us carried the recent trauma from Sandy Hook school with us through these days. And yesterday on Christmas Day, those who serve us in emergencies and other critical care were also busy at their tasks while most of us opened presents and prepared Christmas feasts. With only a little editing, the companion prayer from Compline intercedes for this other part of our common life: Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen. (p. 134)

On the day after Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, we read two stories of tragic death. Second Chronicles tells of the 6th century BCE stoning of Zechariah son of Jehoida in the courtyard of the Temple, and the reading from Acts remembers the stoning death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Violence and injustice seem to take no holiday either.

Yet within the story of Stephen's death, there is a glimmer of light. We see Saul participating in the act. But inside him, something may be cracking open. It could be that the peace and composure of Stephen touched Saul's anxiety and lack of peace from trying to earn his own worthiness. Within the tragedy are the seeds a resurrection in Saul/Paul. An ancient Christian sermon celebrates their union in heaven where Paul now feels no shame and Stephen delights in their friendship.

May we sense our interconnectedness and union with others in the wonder of life as it is touched by Incarnation on this feast of Stephen.

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