Today is the feast of Stephen and on it as on the feast of Christmas itself we are house bound by snow and ice. That means that the liturgy is and has been the office since getting out on the roads would be all but impossible if not crazy suicidal. But that does not mean that we will not remember and celebrate the feast of the first martyr, the deacon Stephan, whose preaching of the gospel brought him death by stoning. However, let us be clear, in spite of the temptation we will not get stoned. A glass of wine with the pot roast and carrots, perhaps, but no more than that.
On the other hand, we do have memories and regrets. Among them is that we have never had the opportunity to "deacon" on this the feast of the first deacon martyr. Somehow on all of those occasions on which we have been where there could be a celebration of this feast, we have always had to be the celebrant. Having received the order of deacon on an Ember Saturday in December, it had been my hope to arrange for just the smallest of celebrations of this feast so that I could read the gospel with the diaconal stole on my left shoulder. No such luck! A big winter storm blew in from the Pacific and by the time it was over, the feast and such opportunity had passed. And by the bishop's order I was priested on the Ember Saturday in Whitsuntide and sang my first Eucharist on Trinity Sunday.
But it would be nice to find a place and time where one could slip back into the servant role, knowing that even as a priest one is also and always a deacon as well, to be able to as humbly as possible don not the cope and chasuble of the priest, but even the meanest of old red dalmatics and be the deacon on this feast. Next year, the feast will fall on a Sunday and with out the chance of the visit of another priest who might be persuaded to celebrate, I probably won't get the chance then either. So it may never happen but in my dreams. And yet I remember the time of the Cromwellian Interregnum in England when the use of the Book of Common Prayer was forbidden and made criminal and even under those circumstances true Anglicans took the risks and celebrated Holy Communion on all the Sundays and Holy Days of the year. There is even a legend that small groups would enter St Paul's in London and find a cornor where they would not be observed so that they might maintain the tradition of a daily celebration in that place until the king and the Church returned. And this is what we have to do as well. We have to find a building, however small and mean, where an altar can be erected and the offices and the Eucharist celebrated in complete conformity to our own Book of Common Prayer. After all the ancient Romans did so in the catacombs underneath the city where the dead were buried and the ancient Celts did so in clearings in the forest. Again, according to legend, the first church at Glastonbury was made of waddle, sticks interwoven and plastered with mud.
Given the circumstances of our Lord's birth and the place where he instituted the Eucharist, we should all recognize that those who will only attend the offices and Holy Communion in a grand stone building with a magnificent pipe organ are less Christians than we would like them to be. We all want things to be the best that we can offer, our own poor equivalent of the shepherd's gifts as well as the gold, frankincense and myrrh of the Magi, but what is most important is that we give ourselves, "our souls and bodies," to follow and worship our Lord wherever we must. If we can not do that, the grandest of cathedrals are monuments erected to ourselves and not to Him.
This is Stephen's day; he gave his life to preach the gospel. What have we done; what are we doing to measure up him?