This week, I'm finding that a return to the Revised Common Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday of Easter sheds some light on the issue. Well... I shouldn't say the whole lectionary is helpful. The gospel this week is from John, from before Jesus' crucifixion, which means that it's kind of odd to have as an Eastertide reading. But hey, last week was a reading from even earlier in John, depicting the parable of the Good Shepherd. So whatever.
My point is that the gospel this week is odd because it's customarily an option at funerals. It was also pointed out to me by the good folks over at Pulpit Fiction that this gospel is very often used as a weapon; it has been used in the past (and is used in the present, though hopefully will not continue to be used in the future) as a measure of who is in and who is out of Jesus' camp. The story is one of Jesus telling his disciples that there are many rooms in his Father's house and that he, Jesus, goes ahead of the disciples to prepare those rooms for them. And then he says this: "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." And so, if you just stop there, it seems like Jesus is making a bit of a club with himself as the arbiter of membership. But, remembering that this gospel is one that may be used at a funeral, it is useful to ask yourself why would this be used at a funeral. What would be happening there that this scripture would soothe?
The answer there (once again, according to Pulpit Fiction), is that this gospel was given as a piece of comfort. The disciples were anxious because their leader is talking about death and they don't like it, so Jesus offers up this description of heaven as a mansion with many rooms so that there are assurances that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
But now let me bring that analysis of the gospel back around to my question; how do we live in the light of the Risen Christ? All this gospel tells us is that Christ asserts that everything will be okay. Fine. So what I'll do is I'll sit here now, knowing that Jesus says everything's okay and I won't need to do anything or worry about anything...
Okay, now I'm impatient. What am I supposed to DO? How am I supposed to LIVE?!?! Christ did not come so that we could sit around on our butts:
|Go look it up|
And after four paragraphs of comments, I have determined that the lectionary has an example of what we ought to believe in, after the Risen Christ, but I still need examples of how to live in those conditions. Lo and behold, the first lesson on Easter 5A. It's the story of Stephen getting stoned. No, not recreationally; fatally as a punishment.
Now, before I launch into a summary, please note that Stephen is one of my favorite Biblical characters. He, along with John the Baptist (whom I have also written about) are, I think, the best icons for the diaconate. If you call that a bias, so be it.
Okay, so like I said, Stephen is killed by stoning in this week's lesson. Not the cheeriest thing to contemplate, so let me start the summary at the beginning of Stephen's story (which, mind you, is not in the lectionary). Stephen was the first one of the seven chosen to take care of the widows in the early church. If we were to rephrase that now (with all our jargon) it would be, "Stephen was the first of seven individuals who were discerned to remedy the food insecurity of the widows in the early community of Jesus' way." But either way, it's true; the Greek-speaking widows were going hungry because the Aramaic-speaking followers of Jesus kept forgetting them or passing over them or whatever it was. And Peter and the rest of the Twelve did not have the time to feed these people themselves, so they asked for seven individuals "well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom." (Have I mentioned how much I appreciate Stephen as a pattern for the diaconate? Also, please note that this part of the story is where the discernment program I was a part of, The Seven, got its name)
So here, then, is an example of someone who lived his life in the light of the Risen Christ. But that anointing for service and that reputation that Stephen had was not the end of the story. As Stephen went along being his awesome self, there were members of a synagogue who took a disliking to him. They accused him of insulting Moses and God, as well as a few other blasphemous things. When the high priest asked whether the accusations were true, Stephen himself began to retell the story of the Hebrew people, starting with Abraham, Jacob and his son Joseph, how the house of Jacob was taken care of in Egypt, how the house of Jacob was then taken as slaves in Egypt, how Moses redeemed them, how the people rebelled, how they wandered in the desert, and then how David asked to build a house for the Lord and how Solomon actually built it. Stephen then spoke out against his accusers, saying that they in fact had harassed every one of God's prophets and how they insisted on separating themselves from the Holy Spirit. So his accusers killed him. And in an interesting homage and bit of foreshadowing, it was Saul of Tarsus who watched Stephen die.
So what's my point here? Well, I don't know whether I have a point or whether I have something self-affirming. I think that Stephen is a great icon for the diaconate, not just because he is the patron saint of deacons, but because he lived his life in such a way that I can't help but think others would want to live like him (though I doubt many of us are keen on dying like him). I think the story of Stephen (the whole story, not just his martyrdom in the lectionary this week) is an example of a life lived in the pattern of the Risen Christ.
|picture of an icon written by Fr. Vladimir|