Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on September 29, 2005
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St Michael and All Angels
Sermon preached by
The Rev. Ethan Cole
September 29, 2005
Our Church rejoices today to celebrate the ministry of angels-those mysterious, strange, and wonderful intermediaries of God's wonders that we read about in some of the most important stories in scripture.
In the Old Testament there is an angel with a flaming sword who guards the gates of Eden after our first parents are expelled, angels who climb Jacob's ladder, strange angelic visitors to Abraham, visions of angels by the prophets like Isaiah who saw Seraphim singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" before the throne day and night, and Ezekiel who saw four living creatures like an ox, a lion, an eagle and a man with multiple wings darting to and fro like a flash of lightening. Most mysteriously there is that Angel of the Lord who seems to be so closely associated with God himself that in the story of the burning bush we are told it is the angel speaking, and then in the next sentence it is God himself speaking; or that Angel of the Lord who wrestles with Jacob who is so close to God that Jacob can claim when their wrestling match is over that he has seen God face to face.
In the New Testament it is the Angel Gabriel who announces to Mary that she will be the mother of Christ. It is the same angel who visits Joseph in a dream who warns him to flee with the Holy Family into Egypt. Choirs of Angels announce to the shepherds when Christ is born. Angels attend to our Lord when his fast and temptation in the wilderness were finished. Angels open the gates of Roman prisons to release imprisoned apostles. An angel of the Lord sends Philip to preach to the Ethiopian Eunuch-and most famously, the book of Revelation is filled with Angels accomplishing God's plan for the consummation of world he has created. It is here where we are told that there was war in heaven and an Archangel named Michael cast out Satan and his angels.
Michael's name means, "Who is like God." His name is an intentionally ambiguous phrase: Michael stands and asks the question, "who is like God?" And the answer of course, is nobody. However, Michael is such glorious being, that you could look at him and say there is the Archangel Michael who is so mighty he is like God. This pun was drawn to my attention by a slightly egotistical seminary professor whose name was Michael, and I think he wanted us to have a higher view of his authority as a teacher than perhaps we did-anyway, Michael who is like God in apocryphal legend is often associated with that Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament who is so close to God as to be virtually indistinguishable from God himself. A glorious being indeed.
The record of Scripture is quite clear that these are beings in creation who are pure spirit and are created to praise God, to announce his plans toward humankind, and to accomplish some of the mighty acts that God wills. It is also clear that some of these created beings fell, and have become malevolent tempters and devils. As Martin Luther puts it in his hymn "A Might Fortress is our God": still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
If you think of angels as in the same category as aliens, elves, unicorns, and the jersey devil or boogeyman, then they are beyond belief. They become ridiculous-like the angel fortune telling cards you could buy in a bookstore. But if angels are instead thought of as one of the mysteries of the created order that are just beyond the reach of our normal faculties, then they are not ridiculous, but take their place in the celestial beauty of the cosmos God has made and placed us in.
The Christian view of angels is not the schmaltzy Highway to Heaven or Touched by an Angel, nor the chubby cherubs of Christmas cards-rather it is a robust and fiery understanding that the universe is charged with presences that we cannot see which are forever praising God and standing ready to do his will.
In the Eucharist, as we sing the Sanctus, we claim that our voices are joining in with the voices of an unceasing heavenly chorus of angels who are always singing before the throne like in Isaiah's famous vision. This is represented in the beautiful mosaic angels that flank the high altar.
As we praise God tonight for the ministry of his Holy Angels, let us open ourselves to the wonder that there are more things in heaven and earth than may be dreamt of-and that we stand with them before the throne praising God who has made us all. Amen.
©2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York