Friday, December 26, 2014

Saint Stephen

December 26 is marked on some church calendars as the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose story is told in the sixth and seventh chapters of Acts.  Again, because of its prozimity to Christmas, there are probably not many services today where he will be remembered.

There is less speculation about Stephen's death, as it is told in scripture.  When he was brought before the Sanhedrin and accused of blasphemy, he gave a long speech about the history of Israel, and then said that he could see Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God.  This suggestion that the recently-crucified Jesus was alive as the Messiah enraged the crowd of listeners, who stoned him.  A quick Google search will turn up several paintings depicting the scene of his murder.  The three stones seen here are also sometimes used to represent Stephen.

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy Name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps, 

Would live our lives for you.

Praise for the first of martyrs,
Who saw you there to stand
To aid in midst of torments,
to plead at God's right hand.
We share with him. if summoned
By death our faith to own,
On earth our faithful witness,
In heav'n, the martyr's crown.

We pray for saints we know not,

For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.

Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harm. J.S. Bach, 1729

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