14th June 2021

‘A good life hath but a few days but a good name endureth for ever’. Few will recognise this as coming from Ecclesiasticus 41, a chapter in which the Jewish rabbi, Ben Sira, offers wisdom on how different people approach their impending death. However, those who sit on the right-hand side of Tyndale, may recognise it as the text used by Geoffrey Robinson in his depiction in stained glass of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Stephen is a shadowy character: all that we know of him is found in Acts 6 v1 to 8 v1. Even his saints’ day is overtaken by the festivities of Boxing Day. The story starts with trouble at the Jerusalem food-bank where it appears that the Greek-speaking widows were not getting their fair share. The disciples, anxious not to be diverted from their main task, asked the Greek speakers to choose seven wise, spiritual, men, often depicted as deacons, to sort this out. Stephen, the first of these, however, did not confine his ministry to administrative duties, but was soon found performing ‘great wonders and signs’, bearing verbal testimony to the risen Christ, for which he was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. The sixty verses of Chapter 7 contain his defence – a lengthy critique of Jewish history – in which he reveals the Jewish leaders, notwithstanding the faithfulness of God, continually resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. The admin man and social worker reveals himself as a powerful preacher, and his words provoked those who were there, in what seems like a lynching, to stone him to death – the first to follow his master in giving up his life for others.

Robinson has the killing stones arraigned around Stephen’s feet whilst the towers and walls of Jerusalem in the background are coloured red, underlining the bloody crime committed against a bold but innocent saint of God, whose short life has left a name that ‘endureth for ever’ even in Tyndale’s windows.

John Briggs