Holy Michael and All Angels

Holy Michael and All Angels

(Rev 12:7-12 / Pss 75, 76 / Matt 20:17-end)

Collect

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

IN HIS PREFACE to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.

Our culture falls into both errors related not just to demons but to all things spiritual. On the one hand, our culture is functionally materialistic, having reduced all reality to physical reality, all knowledge to scientific knowledge. Religion — the spiritual — is privatized, turned into a hobby like quilting or fly-fishing, harmless if kept in check, harmless if kept out of the public arena — schools, politics, business — where real education happens, where real decisions are made, where real stuff gets done. On the other hand, our culture is obsessed with spiritual and pseudo-spiritual matters. Folk religion — the people’s spirituality — is alive and well. Just visit any book store or peruse any podcast platform and you’ll find a smorgasbord of spiritual choices. Our culture is schizophrenic about things spiritual.

What C. S. Lewis wrote about demons applies just as well to angels:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the [angels]. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.

Materialists disbelieve in the existence of angels. Some who identify as spiritual or spiritual-but-not-religious believe in angels and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. And what about Christians? What about the Church? This is my observation, and it’s just my observation: in the Church, the spectrum runs not as much from disbelief to excessive interest as it does from disinterest to adoration, from rarely a thought of angels to daily engagement and dependence on them. I don’t intend to adjudicate that difference or to advocate for a particular point of view or a precise placement on the spectrum; that is largely a matter of personal piety. I would suggest, though, that avoiding either extreme is probably good practice.

Angels have a place in Anglican faith and practice. We do not disregard them. Nor do we obsess over them or speculate over much about them. Angels have a single annual feast day on the liturgical calendar: Holy Michael and All Angels — today, 29 September. The collect of the day is instructive:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What does this say? God has created two orders of beings to worship him and to serve as his ministers: angels and humans. It is the vocation of the angels to serve God and to worship in heaven and also to have some charge over the affairs of men — at God’s direction, to help and defend humans. Both aspects of the angelic vocation — worship and ministry to humans — appear in Anglican prayer and worship. In the Daily Office — typically Morning Prayer — we say or sing the canticle Benedicite, Omnia Opera Domini in which we call all creation, including the angels, to worship the Lord with us: “Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord.” We start the day with angels. In Evening Prayer we ask our dear Lord to give his “angels charge over those who sleep.” And at Compline, we end the day with angels as we pray for their presence with us and their protection over us:

Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessing be upon us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the Eucharist, we praise God, “joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing” the Sanctus — Holy, Holy, Holy — to proclaim the glory of God’s Name.

So, daily (throughout the Prayer Book Offices), weekly (at the Eucharist), and annually (on this feast day) we acknowledge the angels in their vocations of worship and service.

What of Scripture? Do we find this dual vocation of angels — worship and ministry to humans — in Scripture?

Let’s start with an unlikely place, in the book of Job, specifically at the beginning of the Lord’s answer to Job:

Job 38:1–7 (ESV): 38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

3  Dress for action like a man;

I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

5  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

Or who stretched the line upon it?

6  On what were its bases sunk,

or who laid its cornerstone,

7  when the morning stars sang together

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

This is God’s own description of creation: details not found in Genesis. Witnessing the creation of the earth, “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Stars don’t sing — do they? — except perhaps figuratively and poetically. But, if we keep in mind the structure of Hebrew poetic expression — particularly parallelism — we can make sense of this. The morning stars singing parallel and correspond to the sons of God shouting for joy. These stars are spiritual beings — called sons of God — spiritual beings including angels, who are present at the moment of creation, worshipping God, singing and shouting his glory and their joy. The very first Scriptural account of angels is of them fulfilling their vocation to worship. And, in the last Scriptural account in Revelation, the angels are still worshiping — singing this time:

Revelation 15:3–4 (ESV): 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,

O Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

O King of the nations!

4  Who will not fear, O Lord,

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

It is no wonder that in the Eucharistic Prayer we claim to join our voices with Angels and Archangels as we sing the Sanctus — Holy, Holy, Holy; they have been singing the praises of God eternally and will continue to worship him throughout the ages of ages.

Angels appear not infrequently in the Old Testament: two angels destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain, but rescue Lot and his daughters; angels appear to Jacob in his dream at Beth El, coming and going from heaven to earth doing God’s bidding; Michael contends with the devil over the body of Moses (cf Jude 9); the Commander of the Lord’s army appears to Joshua just before the fall of Jericho.

And there is the puzzling account of angels — the Archangels Gabriel and Michael — in the book of Daniel. While in exile in Babylon, Daniel offers a magnificent prayer of repentance on behalf of his people — a plea for God to forgive and deliver. Daniel interrupts the written record of his prayer to say:

Daniel 9:20–23 (ESV): 20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

The “man” Gabriel — the Archangel Gabriel who stands in the presence of God — comes to give Daniel insight and understanding. He comes in response to Daniel’s prayer. And, this happens on another occasion in response to Daniel’s prayer and fasting. Gabriel speaks to Daniel:

Daniel 10:12–14 (ESV): “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

And just a bit later, Gabriel continues:

Daniel 10:20–21 (ESV): But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come. 21 But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.

There is far more going on here than we can explore in these few minutes, and perhaps more than we could understand if we did take the time. But, this much seems clear: (1) God used an angel to respond to human prayer, and (2) angels are engaged in spiritual conflict on behalf of God’s people, a conflict that plays out in the material world and on the global stage.

Angels also appear on the pages of the New Testament, and we are perhaps more familiar with those accounts. Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce the birth of John, the Forerunner of our Lord. Six months later, Gabriel appears to Mary:

Luke 1:30–33 (ESV): 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

An angel appears to Joseph in a dream to verify all that Mary has told him and to commission him in his role as husband and protector. Angels appear to the shepherds and sing the Gloria:

Luke 2:14 (ESV): 14  “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

An angel comes to tell Joseph to take his family to Egypt and then again to say it’s safe to return home.

Angels minister to Jesus at the beginning of his ministry — immediately following the temptation — and again near the end of his ministry during his agony in Gethsemane. Angels roll away the stone from his tomb and proclaim his victory to the women.

Angels release the apostles from prison on at least two occasions so they can continue to proclaim the Gospel with boldness.

And angels feature prominently in the Revelation: each of the seven churches has an angel; hosts of angels sing praises to God and to the Lamb; the angels enact God’s judgment upon the world, largely through disruption of the created order; the faithful angels battle against the dragon and his angels; and the armies of heaven — surely angelic armies — under the command of the rider on the white horse, the one called Faithful and True, defeat the beast and all the kings of this world.

So, I end where we started. We should not obsess over the angels, and —God forbid! — we must not worship them. But it is wrong to doubt them or dismiss them. They play a significant role in the great, sweeping narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. They are our fellow worshippers and our fellow servants, and they are God’s ministers on our behalf. As is so often the case, the collect for the day gets it quite right:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s