Readings: Acts 7:51-8:1a ; Psalm 31; John 6:30-35
The people look for a sign and we are not superior to them: we too would like to be given signs that would confirm God's presence and action for us. But the readings today do give us a number of signs. Stephen is one sign, particularly his courage in speaking up to the authorities and in dying for the faith. We see it again and again in the readings from Acts of the Apostoles: the transformation in the apostles and disciples after Pentecost is remarkable, striking, thought-provoking.
Stephen is also a sign in the way his passion, trial and execution so closely follow those of Jesus. Like Jesus he speaks of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven and this provokes outrage. Like Jesus he prays for those who execute him: 'do not hold this sin against them'. Like Jesus he commends his spirit now into the hands of Jesus whom he sees standing, as his advocate, at the right hand of God.
An even more remarkable sign is in the making since we are here introduced to a man called Saul. We know that he will later be Paul and that one of the most extraordinary transformations of heart and mind will come about in him. That human beings would change so significantly, not only that they would change at all but that they would change in such striking ways: is this not one of the most compelling signs we are given as we read about the life of the first Christian communities?
Of course the greatest of signs is Jesus himself, and it is their communion with him which makes it possible for the others to change in the ways they do. He is the bread given by the Father. This refers to his teaching but also, as he will explain, to his very person. He is himself the bread of life and the living bread, given to nourish the life of God's people. All the other signs we see in the Christian community - the example of holy people, the works of charity, the courage of martyrs, the teaching of preachers, and so on - have their source in this great sign which is Jesus.
He gives himself to us in the Eucharist. It is a simple and remarkable sign, the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. But in this way Jesus gives himself to people in all times and places, as their food and drink, to share his own life with them. This is the Sign of signs, the source of whatever power and grace we encounter in any of the other signs.
It is from this communion with Jesus that the saints draw their strength and inspiration, here they find nourishment and grace. Let it be so also for us sinners, that we may look always to this great sign and participate in it, receiving Christ, living from his life, allowing the transforming Spirit to turn us into the signs God wants us to be in the world.