‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.’
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him.
(Church in Wales Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)
St Stephen is the first martyr of the new Church, and he died in 36 CE in Jerusalem. He and six others were chosen and ordained as deacons to carry out the pastoral work that included feeding the elderly widows, leaving the apostles to continue their work of preaching and teaching. However, after defending the Christian faith before the Sanhedrin his listeners were so incensed that he was taken from that court and stoned to death. The passage ends with the fact that Saul (whom we later know as Saint Paul) approved of his killing.
Stephen was a Greek Jew. He was against the Temple in Jerusalem with its sacrifices, believing that God would raise up another Moses who would deliver His people. He seems to have seen Jesus as this figure and in the moment before his death has a vision of the 'Son of Man' standing at the right hand of God. The title 'Son of Man' in the New Testament always refers to Jesus, so it's likely that is what Stephen meant. Stephen's ideas about Jesus being the Mesiah and a second Moses are in their infancy, and it takes Saint Paul to repent of his action in agreeing to the death of Stephen, and to begin creating new churches across the Empire, before we get a more systematic theology of Jesus as the Messiah.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You called Stephen
to be a Deacon in Your church,
to serve the people and care for them.
He answered Your call
and obeyed You until his death.
May we too be as constant
and courageous as him
amongst the people
where You have placed us.