54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died.
You can just imagine that the apostles were heart-sick over the loss of Stephen, who became the scapegoat for the Way. As memories of their beloved Jesus flooded in, Stephen’s death likely reminded the apostles of the loss of their Lord. When Stephen dies, now another man of God has been put to death while doing God’s work!
All death leaves us grieving. Whether our losses happen tragically, even when they come as a relief, all our losses leave us wanting a different story. Death often feels like a tragedy and is unfair. Grief is unfair. We want justice over any death but it isn’t coming. Whether in the eyes of the apostles or our own, we can’t help but view death with sadness, and rightly so!
But in the eyes of Stephen, he saw triumph! Stephen looked at heaven and saw glory. “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side.” He wasn’t focused on the tragedy of his life or of it being avenged. Stephen even felt forgiveness and joy as he looked into the eyes of God. He was focused on God’s glory. How many times are we bereft over a loss? I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be. However, how many times do we stay stuck there, and forget that our loved ones are living on in God’s Glory. In the eyes of the world, we see tragedy in loss and sometimes we stay that way. But in the eyes of Stephen, and others who go on before us, there is triumph. Stephen became euphoric. He even forgave those who were killing him. While we stay stuck in the tragedy of our earthly grief, our loved ones live on in triumph.
By Barbara Carlson
For Pondering & Prayer
Is grief seen as a tragedy or triumph? We want life and death to always be just, but it never is. When loss happens, we are grief-stricken. But when we remember that glory is coming, we don’t have to stay that way. How does grief hold you back? Perhaps it keeps you from forgiveness or holds you in mourning. How can you move toward seeing grief through the eyes of Stephen?
Prayer: Holy God, only you know us best! You are the Great Comforter. Hold us when we hurt. Hold us even in our anger and sadness and grief. You know grief and heartache in ways that we cannot imagine. Thank you for giving us life and the freedom to hold onto our grief, or to let go of it, whenever we are ready to do so. Help us to live in forgiveness and grace for others, as you have offered it first to us. Amen.