We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand: where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
I often enjoy a quiet peacefulness in the days immediately following Christmas. Our Christmas Services are completed, my phone doesn’t ring, and email slows to a near complete stop. It’s a quiet time. Into this lull the Feast of Stephen bursts like unexpected fireworks. We know its coming and yet every year it freshly startles.
My very being wants to relax and gaze with wonder upon the infant Jesus. I wish to remain in that place of contemplation but our church calendar emphatically reminds us that Jesus was born with a mission and that He loves His martyrs. On Dec 26 we celebrate the first Christian Martyr.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’ They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow-servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. (Rev 6:9-11)
Christians are being martyred at an astonishing rate. Current estimates are that a new martyr is made every five minutes somewhere in the world. Some die famously while most die without fanfare. Except of course in heaven where they are numbered among the saints.
I do enjoy the peacefulness of this week and hope you do as well. Rest is good. So is prayer. Our Daily Office includes this prayer which feels particularly poignant on St. Stephens day.
A Prayer of Self-Dedication
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.