I wonder what, if anything you think about Angels? Our reading tonight from the letter to the Hebrews speaks of them as part of the created order. Verse 6 which is not part of our reading says : “And again, when he brings the first born into the world, he says’ He makes his angels winds and his servants flames of fire”.
There are frequent references to angels in both the Old and New Testaments. We have the messengers who come to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre. The angels who Jacob, in his dream, saw ascending and descending the ladder connecting heaven and earth. In the books of Daniel and Tobit and elsewhere.
In Luke’s Gospel we have Gabriel telling Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are to have a child. Gabriel also brings the message to Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus. We have the angels announcing to the Shepherds that the Messiah had been born and where they could find him. We read of angels ministering to Jesus in the desert after the temptations and in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus often refers to angels and in the account of the temptation the devil says to Jesus about God giving “the angels charge over him”.
The word angels is a name that comes from the Greek word for messengers. Angels are part of all three Abrahamic faiths. These messengers of God can be visible or invisible and can take human form or non human form. The only ones we know by name are the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. Gabriel is perhaps the best known, followed by Michael and then Raphael the healer. The least known is Uriel.
We have just celebrated the feast of St Michael and All Angels last Tuesday September 29th. We in this Benefice have one of our churches under the patronage of St. Michael. Our Community, the Sisters of the Church has St. Michael and All the Angels as our patron too. Another angel feast at this time of year October 3rd is that of Guardian Angels.
In Matthew 18:10, Jesus says of children: "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (New International Version). This is often understood to mean that children are protected by guardian angels. People talk about their Guardian Angels when they have an experience of being protected by missing accidents or being reminded of something vital. Our Hebrews Chapter 1 verse 14 when speaking of angels, says "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
In Acts 12:12-15 there is another allusion to the belief that a specific angel is assigned to protect each individual. Peter had been escorted out of prison by an angel, and went to where we knew the Community was gathered. The Community thought that the person knocking at the door was his angel.
You might well be thinking this is all well and good but angels are of a different order of creation and what have they got to do with us and our living out of the Gospel now. I think they can be of great help to us on our journey. As I said earlier Michael and the Angels are our Community’s Patrons and the reason why Emily, the woman who started our Community chose them was to remind us that we are called to be like the angels in regard to worshipping God, having our eyes fixed on him, and also to be ready and willing to carry out God’s will. This is summed up in two words “Adoration and Action” and we need to have them both in balance. The God we worship calls us to respond to our fellow human beings in need. It is being with people, both in times of pleasure and grief that leads us back to God to pray for them if not with them.
We are all aware of how in our world today there is a great tendency to think of ourselves and our needs and their gratification as being the centre of our universe and our right. The meaning of the word Michael is “Who is like God?” Our world is full of false gods. Listen to what people say are the most important things in their life. What is it they want most. More money, a better house, a better car, to have the freedom to go where they want and to have what they want. They wouldn’t consciously call them their gods, but that is what their life is aimed at. But at the end of it all, those things rarely bring peace and happiness. We can’t take those things with us when we die.
A few years ago while on holiday in Ireland we were staying near Skelig Michael, a small island of a wild jagged rocky outcrop into the Atlantic. This year I actually got to visit St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Places like that are often named after St. Michael as he is regarded as the guardian and protector of places were people could face death. Wild places where the elements do battle with each other in storms. These places are often regarded in Celtic spirituality as “thin places”, places where earth can meet heaven. This made these places very attractive to establishing monasteries.
Michael is regarded as the patron of many things. As the angel who led the fight against Lucifer, which is seen as the battle between good and evil, Michael is seen as the patron of armies, though one wonders what happens if both sides have him as their patron. He is seen as the guardian and protector of the church and as the angel responsible for helping souls from this world to the next. Remember the song “Michael row the boat ashore”.
I think he is regarded as the guardian and protector of the church because that too is regarded as a “thin place”, a place where heaven and earth meet. This is particularly true when we meet together to celebrate the Eucharist. But is also true of every time we meet together to worship God. Jesus says where two or three are gathered together there am I in the midst of them. Sometimes when we get discouraged as we seem to be few in church, we need to remember we are surrounded by the host of heaven who join us as we meet to praise God.
Angels remind us of the need to be conveyors in ourselves of this “thin place”, this meeting of the reality of this world and life and the reality of the eternal. We need to pray for God’s grace to be the people he would have us be. To go on growing in our relationship with him. To be open and attentive to all those little nudges and opportunities he gives us and maybe sometimes our angels are his messengers of that message of showing God’s love and care for others. Angels remind us of God’s love and care for us. Though we are of a different created order we are called “to be an angel” and convey God’s love and care to others especially those who don’t know him.
May God’s grace enable us to do this today and everyday. Amen.