The Lamentation At Stephen's Funeral
Acts 8:2
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

This was something more than a conventional funeral. The people among whom it occurred were given to burial rites of elaborate and studied ceremonial. Like all orientalists, their mourning was chiefly marked by a painstaking and intentional publicity. With them grief for the dead meant baring and beating the breast, sprinkling or sitting in ashes, songs of lamentation, and the employment of mourning women. And so, when the martyred Stephen is buried, the customs are not changed. True, he was not merely a flew, but a Christian; yet the infant Church still clung to the cherished ceremonies of the elder, and what was usual was followed here. It was indeed the hatred and vindictiveness of Judaism which had slain this godly man, yet, when he is dead, the manner of his burial is the usage of Judaism itself. To have changed it would have been to have surrendered his claim as a veritable and loyal Israelite; and doubtless, also, to have grieved and wounded his surviving relatives. All the more because his death had been so cruel and distressing, would they have his burial decent and reverent and painstaking; even as when the nation buries some honoured soldier she surrounds his funeral cortege with every element of pomp and state and ceremony, as though she would atone for the hardships of his bitter and lonely end upon the field of battle by utmost tenderness and reverence in dealing with his lifeless body. And thus it was with the bruised and mangled form of Stephen. The funeral order of his race was carefully observed. But there was this difference — and it comes out with a singular and touching significance in two Greek words, used here only in all the New Testament: the mourning at Stephen's funeral was the mourning of unaffected feeling, and the attendants who followed him to his grave were not hired mutes nor paid mourners, but grief-stricken and godly men. This scene suggests the thought of the difference that there is in funerals. The Church has one common ritual for all her baptized dead. She does not attempt to discriminate either in her customs or her utterances. She is not a judge with such infallible insight that she can weigh character and prophesy of destiny. Most wisely, therefore, does she use one common office for all her dead, leaving scarce any discretion to her ministry, and uttering one uniform voice to her people. Her language is general, not specific. She writes as Inspiration has written before her, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord," but she utters no verdict of application in connection with their use. She speaks words of Christian hope; but they are coupled with the Scriptural conditions of all Christian hope. In a word, her language is that of Christian faith and trust; and while it is utterly devoid of any specific application of its very general terms, we feel that its tone is only what the tone of anything save a heathen burial ought to be. And yet, when we come to use it, we recognise what a really tremendous difference there may be in even the Church's funerals. As with Stephen's burial by the elder Church, there are the same preliminaries, the same customs, the same words, and yet, as there, there may be the widest and most radical difference in what those words and customs express. Have we not all witnessed funerals where even the sublime ritual of the Church seemed powerless to touch the heart or lift the thoughts? With utmost charity, with every willingness to leave the vanished life in the hands of a Love at once deeper and wiser than ours, we cannot bind that life and the Church's tones together. Somehow, they do not fit into, and form a part of, each other. Verily, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; for they rest from their labours." But if they have not lived in the Lord, nor laboured for Him — we may say these questions are useless; but we cannot help asking them. On the other hand, there are other funerals where we use precisely the same ritual; where there is no diversity in usage or custom from what is wonted, unless in the direction of greater simplicity; where merely the Church's appointed words are said, and no others, and yet where the emotions of our own hearts and the very atmosphere of the whole occasion are utterly and wholly different. There is a deep and widespread sorrow, but it is a grief gilded with light. We listen to the words of inspired hope and promise, and, as we lift our eyes from the bier before us, lo! the clouds are parted, and we see how, to a Christian, the grave is only a low-brewed portal, through which, bending as he passes, he emerges into larger life and freer.

(Bp. H. C. Potter.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

WEB: Devout men buried Stephen, and lamented greatly over him.

The Grave Beside the Church
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