I have always been intrigued by the fact that on the day after Christmas the church celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Just as we are contemplating the wonder of the birth of Jesus, we are caught up short the very next day to celebrate Stephen’s ultimate gift of himself in service of Jesus.
Similarly today in the midst of Easter season the memory of St. Stephen’s courage and steadiness in the face of grave danger is placed before us. Stephen does not hesitate to challenge the “people, elders and scribes” with his prophetic message, a message that they do not want to hear. “Infuriated” they throw him out of the city and stone him to death.
It is ironic that the feast following Christmas joy and our reading today amidst the joy of the Easter remind us of the call and challenge to discipleship with Christ. We are confronted by the truth that the joy we experience in relationship to Christ is always tempered by the cross. Indeed, as we are reminded today so graphically, if we live with Christ and are raised with Him, we will suffer with Him as well.
In a word what we are asked to consider is how the paschal mystery of Christ affects us in our lives. Lent has prepared us for this and Holy Week and the subsequent Easter celebration and season dramatically lead us to encounter Christ in these most solemn rituals.
The rituals of Holy Week and Easter (and following) are reminders of what we are about as Christians baptized into Christ. December 26th (feast of St. Stephen) and the telling of Stephen’s story here as part of celebrating the joy of Easter, help us to focus on Christ and our incorporation into his life, death and resurrection.
Today’s first reading and the feasts we have been celebrating are object-lessons for us as followers of Jesus. Like Jesus before him and St. Stephen, we can be assured of experiencing the joy of Easter if we enter ever more deeply into Christ’s life of service.
Lord, send us your Holy Spirit to teach us the meaning your Son’s life, death and resurrection has for us in our lives. In this season of Easter joy, let us recognize that our joy comes in our incorporation into His paschal mystery. Let us know the joy that is ours in our discipleship with Him whom we call Lord and Savior.
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