Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14) So asks the writer to the Hebrews at the end of today’s second reading giving us as he does a biblical definition of angels.
The passage in question is about Christ’s being higher than the angels and so it started with another question: To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? (Hebrews 1:5)
I wonder what questions go through your mind though as in obedience to the Church Calendar we keep this Feast of St Michael and all Angels?
The materialist in you is bound to question theories of the invisible world, be they of God, of the realm of the resurrection or of angels.
The democrat in you will question the whole hierarchical business descending from God in Christ through angels and saints down to mortals, further down to demons and then to the devil himself.
The pacifist in you will be alarmed by that Revelation reading: War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated.(12:7)
The hard headed part of you will balk at today’s Gospel: seeing heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on Jesus. (John 1:51)
What has the preacher got to allay those questionings as the Church calls us this morning to reflect on the historic quarter day Festival of St Michael and all angels on God’s constitution of the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order?
I have four thoughts for you.
First, for the materialist. Have you heard the theory of parallel universes? Or of the multiverse in which at any moment there are simultaneous happenings in St Giles Church on Sunday morning 29th September 2013 with a good, bad or indifferent sermon? Which one are you in right now?
Lay aside the multiverse! Might it not be more reasonable to put faith in One whose throne is for ever, and who in Christ is shown to have loved righteousness and hated wickedness? (Hebrews 1:9) Jesus Christ, whose resurrection lifts human nature into a world beyond this world? Christianity holds to no parallel universe save one beyond the material order, since God is Spirit. His Mind comes before all matter and he has spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.
Second thought for the democrat. It is a good principle to challenge inherited power and questionable hierarchy. That principle has limited application, even in this world, as is amply demonstrated by western attempts to export democracy to the Middle East! If this world is just one section of reality we have to humbly accept our place, rather lower down than we might like, in that full supernatural reality.
Human beings aren’t top dogs. They never have been. The angels are above us, with God, in highest heaven. In scripture we read they excel us in both knowledge and power so they remind us that, even among created things, humans aren’t top of the heap. In the Gospel Nathanael is struck by Christ’s supernatural knowledge of him. ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ In answer Our Lord speaks to him of that fuller understanding of reality, shared by angels not by mortals, which his resurrection unveils. Jesus answered, ‘you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
Third thought for the pacifist. Watch your talk of peace doesn’t distract from building peace. ‘Jaw, jaw’ can be better than ‘war, war’ but sometime there’s need for action, however limited, to disarm an evil power. We are sensing this over Syria aren’t we? Talking at the United Nations may be insufficient in this situation.
The way things actually are, what the Bible teaches, is this. We human beings are caught in a cosmic conflict between the truth of God and those who balk at it, led by the devil as father of lies. By his Cross and resurrection Jesus has shifted things forward. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9) To put faith in the angels is to recognise this decisive victory and God’s mopping up operation, the peace keeping work of angels and mortals in a wonderful order.
Fourth and last thought: for the hard-headed. A human mind can’t think itself into salvation. God knows this, which is why he sends spirits in (his) service, (sending them) to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. If God is the ground of our being he is being itself so our perception of him is like an insect’s perception of us humans. We must reach up for his helping hand if we are to leave the limited dimensions of our existence and enter salvation, the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Angels are about that freedom. They possess it. They fly because they’re not hard-headed. They don’t take themselves too seriously. This brings me to a word of testimony.
On this day in 1969 I was heading on my Lambretta from Harwell up the A34 to my Oxford College when the front tyre burst and I went across the road to slide under a lorry. I was heading to keep this feast by serving the evening Mass at St Mary Magdalene, Oxford. The good news is I passed under the lorry though I missed that Mass and ended up in the Radcliffe Infirmary. I remain convinced St Michael and his angels were sent by God to protect my life for a purpose. Four years later that purpose was revealed. I left my work at Oxford University and the nuclear power station at Harwell to train as a priest.
The angels who shifted the lorry, or my scooter, helped shift my career their way. I say ‘their way’ because angels and priests have the same mission: to bring God’s love to people and people to God’s love. We are both in divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.
Both ministries are about serving God and the church so church members are made better servants of the message of salvation. We are all caught up with the angels in worship of the God we cannot see and in witnessing him to our neighbor in deed and word. The joy of the angels over sinners who turn to God is for us as well.
In the Eucharist we are promised the support of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in lifting our selves through, with and in Jesus Christ to the Father whose face the angels see and whose sight is promised when we ourselves will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. So to God…