Stephen said, “I can see heaven open, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God’. (Acts 7:56) (A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.693).
It sounds like St. Stephen had a contemplative and mystical experience while he was being stoned to death. It certainly was not a peaceful or silent moment. Being dragged out of the city and be stoned to death for proclaiming the truth he knew about Jesus as he did; yet, he had this vision of Jesus at the right hand of God.
In the last two days of my mother’s life, she groaned and moaned a lot. To be honest, this was the first time I had ever been at the bedside of a dying person. It was a very powerful spiritual experience. When I asked the hospice nurse about the groaning and moaning, she said that mom was talking with the other side. As my mother was handing over everything physical and material, she was embracing ever so graciously what is spiritual. My mother could not talk in those final moments of her life. Yet, she did say one word very clearly that she had not said in sixteen years. She said, “Ma”.
St. Stephen’s mystical experience of Jesus, and my mother’s were the work of the Holy Spirit. At the moment of the greatest chaos, pain, suffering and death; our God becomes ever more visible and tangible. In those moments, we see everything from God’s view point. All that is touchable in this life, becomes the “rubbish” that St. Paul wrote about in Philippians 3:7. What becomes crucial is the revelation of God who seeks union with us, as we embrace God in a holy union of body, mind, soul and spirit.
Jesus, your glory is not in power alone, but even more in suffering and death, may Stephen’s vision crown our resolution and keep us true. Amen. (A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.693).
Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB