St. Michael and All Angels

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Angel Saint Michael

There is one character common to all readings, other than God – angels
Genesis – angels are ascending and descending the ladder between heaven and earth in Jacob’s dream
Psalm – “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word.” (v20)
Revelation of John – Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, Satan
John – Jesus first meeting with Nathanael and he paints an image that is very similar to Jacob’s dream, pointing to the end of time

Humanity has a love – hate relationship with angels:
some believe and will tell of their experiences
others will reject these experiences as figments of the imagination
or the result of sickness or drugs of one sort or another

The term angel in our lives, a little searching found:
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, minor league baseball
Angels & Demons, movie with Tom Hanks
Angels Gate Winery in Niagara
Angels Diner, 2 in KW, 9 in southern Ontario
Touched by an Angel, TV series (1994-2003)
Charlie’s Angels, TV series in late 70’s
angel investors
Hell’s Angels and their colleagues, Satan’s Choice

Angels show up in art using virtually every media known to humanity, large and small, fancy and plain

Almost all images of angels will have long flowing robes, bright, even luminous, usually floating above a scene and with wings.

What do we know about angels in the Bible?
They are mentioned in nearly half the books
word Angel and Archangel shows up 344 times[i]

belong in heaven, but come to earth as Yahweh’s servants
indistinguishable from humans – Abraham saw three men (Gen 18:2), Jacob will wrestle with a man (Gen 32:24)
they do not fly, contrary to common representation in Christian art
Angels are creatures
As mighty ones doing God’s bidding, they surpass humans in power and wisdom, but despite their superiority to humans angels are not to be worshipped (Josh 5:14)
they are primarily messengers
beyond that they are envoys accomplishing specific tasks
some are known as “destroying angels” as they are sent to act against humans

Archangels occurs twice,
Michael and Gabriel only named angels
Satan, is named as the leader of the fallen angels
Angels are readily distinguishable from humans (Acts 6:15)
though they are entertained without recognition (Heb 13:2); stories at the tomb of a young man and men clothed in white, with dazzling appearance
terrifying to the women and the guards
Angels are prominent in the critical events of in the life of Jesus, appearing to:
John and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist
Mary and Joseph
the shepherds
Joseph warning the family to flee to Egypt
at the temptations at the outset of Jesus’ messianic ministry
assisted in the spread of the gospel
deliver the apostles from jail
reassured Paul when he was in danger at sea
guided Philip teaching the Ethiopian
angels are God’s servants –
observers, messengers, enablers, enactors, revealers

St Michael[iv]
Michael means “who is like god?”
today he is the patron of grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police and sickness
usually the top-ranked angel
leads the unfallen angels against the dragon, Satan, and his rebellious host and casts them out of heaven, as we heard in the reading from the revelation of John
a victory that anticipates Christ’s ultimate triumph over Satan.

Angels are messengers
some are visible, some invisible
some have human form, some non-human form

Thinking of angels that are visible and in human form the author of the letter to the Hebrews refers back to the experience of Abraham and says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

St Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential theologians, writing in the late 4th or early 5th century wants the reader to understand that it is what angels do that makes them angels not what they are made of.  Augustine says that “Angels are spirits, but it is not because they are spirits that they are angels.  They become Angels when they are sent.  For the name Angel refers to their office, not their nature.  You ask the name of this nature, it is spirit; you ask its office, it is that of an Angel, which is messenger.”  Angel is in the doing, not in the being.  It is what they do.

“Every visible thing in this world is put in the charge of an angel.” St Augustine.  It could be easy to dismiss this short statement by St Augustine; turn the statement around the other way and it says that there is a guardian for everything in God’s creation.  That means that there are angels watching over us; each of us has a messenger, protector, enabler, revealer watching over us.  That is a really awesome thought.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Austrian poet, in Duino Elegies said: “Every angel is terrifying.”   Thinking back to Mary, the other women and the guards at the tomb we might be inclined to agree with Rilke.  Receiving a message from God might well be terrifying, whether the news appears good or not.

Benjamin Disraeli in a speech on Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species said: “The question is this:  Is man an ape or an angel?  Now, I am on the side of angels.”

On a less serious note there is an old Scottish saying or a quotation from G.K. Chesterton: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

While many people are reluctant to speak about their experience with angels helping them in some way, big or small, because of the perceived stigma, there are even fewer people who will talk about their experience of being the angel for another person.  Perhaps because they don’t realize what they have done, or understand the significance of their actions for the person they helped or perhaps because it is so sacred to be called to be a messenger for God.

There are times in our lives when we might receive the help of angels; guidance, calmness, strength, safety, warning

There are times in our lives when we might be an angel to another person; providing guidance, calmness, strength, safety, warning in ways that we do not know or understand or think that we are able to do.

I will close with the words of one of the prayers of Compline that may be very familiar:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous and all for your love’s sake.   Amen.

Reference:       Genesis 28:10-17
Psalm 103:19-22
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-51

[i] The NRSV Concordance: Unabridged, Zondervan

[ii] “Angels,” The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol 1 pp 148-153

[iii] “Angels,” The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol 1 pp 153-155

[iv] “Angels,” The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol ? pp 77-78

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