Sermon for the Feast of St Michael & All Angels
we worship you Father Almighty with songs of everlasting praise
St M & AA is a festival I’ve had a soft spot for since I was about 11 and started secondary school,My best friend was a Roman Catholic and began to introduce me to the rhythms of the church year and the marking of the saints – It seemed to me that a Feast for All Angels was a particularly appropriate one for an Angela to adopt as “hers”.
Apocryphally when I was born & my parents announced what I was to be called my grandfather muttered, “You can’t call her that, it’s tempting providence”
[not in the sermon but linked writing about my name…]
I’ll leave you to your own opinions on that one, but it does begin to illustrate where our minds go when we start to think about Angels… all the phrases that come to mind “ oh he’s been a complete angel” “ would you be an angel and…” “they behaved like little angels”
In our cultural mythology angels are all sorts of things, they’re our departed loved ones, or our guardians, they’re cute or muddled up with fairies & can grant wishes.
In short, we often don’t know what we mean when we talk about angels
Today is the feast of St Michael and All Angels, Michael being one of the archangels spoken of in scripture, and All Angels, being, well… All Angels!
Angels of all sorts appear throughout scripture, they’re often a bit mysterious. Not often described, but they make regular appearances through the stories of the OT and into the New.
Often the phrase The Angel of the Lord occurs, and this has been variously interpreted as being a euphemism for God himself, or one of the archangels
Angels are frequently depicted as heavenly messengers –those acting on God’s behalf: there are very many stories particularly in the Old Testament and the very start of the New of Angels appearing with messengers from God.
Right back in Genesis we read the story of Abraham and the three strangers who came to visit him and brought him the message of his son to be born, fast forward to the early days of the New testament story and we have Gabriel’s messages to Mary, The angels appearing to Zechariah and to Joseph and of course to the shepherds..
Angels were seen as God messengers –the only bridge between heaven and earth, before God himself was incarnate and made that connection, but continuing as that link between the divine and the human,
The readings for today contain the story of Jacobs’s dream, of a ladder, with angels descending up and down, and God reminding him of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants.
Angels are heralds of God’s Good news, but it seems to be clear from scripture that their primary purpose above all is to worship God and to be in his presence.
Which is not so very different from us,
“The chief end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” says the Westminster shorter catechism of 1647!
We gather together, Sunday by Sunday, and at other times to to “worship”> Christians the world over have argued and debated what worship is. Debates get caught up in differences in style and content, whether there is a Eucharist, or extended singing, or an anthem. Whether there are x scripture readings or y.
But we do not conjure up worship by means of the music or the words
Worship is from our hearts, a reaction and a response to the presence to God with us. When we encounter God, we worship. When we get caught up in the worship that is happening around us, we encounter God.
This is a pale illustration of what is happening in heaven
In the presence of God the angels are constantly worshipping, because there is no other response to being in the presence of God than to worship, to pour out our hearts, to give him our everything.
In Isaiah 6 we read about the vision which Isaiah had, of God on his throne and all about him were angels, continually singing Holy Holy Holy… their eternal song, in the presence of the Lord God Almighty. Isaiah thinks he will die, because he sees God, he has no words, no human ability to react to the amazing presence of God, and then he is touched, and forgiven and able to join in with the worship – not that we’re given a description of what he says or sings, but we know from his reaction & response –Here I am, send me –that his heart has joined the worship of the angels at the throne.
When we worship here, what we are aiming to do is to join in with the worship of the angels… what we pray we might do is by the power of the spirit experience Gods presence and join in with the eternal song of the angels, whatever our words here.
We pray in the Eucharistic prayer
“With angels and archangels and ALL the company of heaven”
Our worship is not something that stands alone –it’s about tuning in and joining in with what is constantly going on in heaven before our God –its like singing along with the choir –
When we begin to grasp this it can transform our experience of worship here, not just in church but in every minute, our reaction to the view out our window, the beautiful music on the radio, the sunset, the newborn baby, the dog or the cat, the hug from a loved one –all these things start to tune us into the worship of the angels in heaven.
Angel means messenger of God. And proclamations of the good news is the other key task of the angels -and ours
We’ve touched on already the many stories of Angels coming to earth, to humanity to proclaim good news –from Abraham to the shepherds, we read several times of this idea of angels ascending & descending to & from earth, bringing to human kind a knowledge and understanding of Gods message to us, a message fulfilled in Jesus, who even as he returned to heaven had angels speaking to the disciples, and telling them that he would return in the same way,
Angels heralded his birth and his resurrection, and we too should be joining in with their work of proclamation, speaking out God’s good news to those around us. Its not an easy task. Confronted by angels its is no surprise that most people needed to be reassured –Don’t be afraid, is almost the Angels traditional greeting –and so with us, we com to those around us in God’s name –to reassure them of Gods love and his purpose, not to scare or berate.
In proclaiming the Good news we little by little push back the darkness in our world, eating away at the culture of greed and selfishness,
Our reading from Revelation this morning reminds us of the story of St Michael –fighting with the dragon, Satan, symbol and figurehead of all that is broken and wrong in our world.
We too can be Michaels in our broken world as we echo the the Angels calling to proclaim good news, and be heralds of the Kingdom of God. Traditionally St Michael has been the defender of the faithful, defender of the good, pusher back of the darkness -and as we worship and proclaim good news, we too protect and fight for what is good and right, awaiting that day when we will all stand in the presence of God and the worship of All the company of heaven, including us, and all the saints and the angels and the archangels will be complete.