Saint Michael and All Angels


I happen to be one those few who listen to a lot of talk radio each day as I travel to and from work and at lunch time. During a few of these sessions I am always surprised when the topic of religion comes up, because invariably the host tells his listeners that he is in fact not a Christian or a believer of any one religion . . . even though apparently he is a believer in ghosts, the supernatural, and angels. He is always up front to mention that he has a problem with the resurrection of Jesus and seems to insinuate that the apostles made the whole thing up.
But far from being offended by this, I myself find it a bit refreshing to hear a person explain with some candor why he is not a believer in Jesus even though he has great respect for those who do believe . . . and not only for Christian believers, but believers of all faiths. One cannot help but recognize that this is just the kind of person that God can appreciate – not because of his unbelief, but because of his openness to the heart of the gospel and to the existence of God.
Wasn’t it Jesus who told the unbelieving Jews who approached him “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”
I believe this statement is the key to helping any unbeliever find his faith, for Jesus always pointed to the Father as the source of his power to do the works he did and the miracles he performed. But just like the miracles that we as Christians accept without reservation, many of us would rather not think of the other, unseen ones described in the Bible as angels or demons or other beings who occupy the heavens and the earth with us here and with God. For many, these are just fanciful legends made up for children at story book time . . . but for the prophets and those who have experienced them and seen them firsthand, these other beings are truly real and a force to be considered.
Today is the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels and we celebrate and give God thanks for these ‘others’ who are with us at all times and in all seasons who perform the will of God by protecting us from those spiritual forces who would most like to do us harm.
In my first thoughts about the angelic realm so many years ago, I wondered why God would need an army of Angels at all. Certainly heaven must have been secure in the beginning and so an army to protect it or to defend it just didn’t fit my vision of heaven as a place of everlasting peace and joy.
But in our lesson today John writes something rather cryptic in that . . . “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 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.
And so it seems that the Seraph Lucifer (or Satan) and his angelic followers were thrown out of heaven and made to reside with us, here on earth . . . which according to the book of Genesis, was where all the trouble began with Adam and Eve and the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil . . . and where there has been trouble ever since.
So just who or what are angels and why should we believe they exist?
One of the most important of the angels, we are taught, is the Angel Michael who is almost always depicted with the wings of a seraph trampling on the head of Satan, the devil (as in the famous painting by Guido Reni). Michael has been said to be in charge of the defense of the Nation Israel and of the Church of Christ until the return of Jesus. Michael has at his command hundreds of thousands if not millions of angels of every rank (of which we know there are nine)
A few years ago, our friend Shirley Lawrenson was here at St. Nicholas Church from Israel. She told the story that in the most recent war between Hamas and Israel, it was reported by the Palestinians that rockets shot into Israel were simply being swept out to sea or into the desert to explode harmlessly. Others were exploded with the use of the Iron Dome that had a 95% success rate. These were all thought to be miracles by the Jewish people . . . but these are the kinds of happenings that are caused by the angels of God. In fact, the president of Israel told the news reporters that in order to live in Israel today, you have to believe in miracles such as these . . . because there is no other explanation.
There are of course hundreds of other stories about angels on the internet and how they interact with human beings in our world, but in order to prove their existence to the unbelievers in our midst we need to look very closely at the biblical references that the prophets provide . . . and not only the prophets, but to Jesus Christ himself . . .
Remember in the garden of Gethsemane when Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant . . . “And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Can you imagine what it was like to be the angelic contingent that was guarding Jesus his whole time on earth, and how they had to watch as he was flogged and crucified on that fateful day . . . ordered, we have to assume, not to interfere. I have often thought it was an angel who may have, in anger, torn the gold tabernacle curtain in two when Jesus died. What other explanation could there have been?
The New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic interaction deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. And in Luke 1:26 the archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds in Luke 2:10. And today we continue to proclaim the same song of the angelic host each week at the end of mass in the Gloria in Excelsis . . . Glory to God in the Highest.
Angels also appear later in the New Testament. According to Matthew 4:11, after Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, “…the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus Christ during the Agony in the Garden. In Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb, following the Resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels. Further on in the New Testament, it is Paul and Barnabus, his companion, who are released from prison by an angel. Hebrews 13:2 reminds readers that anyone may “entertain angels unaware” at anytime and anywhere.
As recently as the 20th century, visionaries and mystics have reported interactions with angels. In a biography of Saint Gemma Galgani written by Venerable Germanus Ruoppolo, Galgani stated that she had spoken with her own guardian angel.
I too, at least until the day of my ordination to the diaconate, had conversations with my guardian angel whose job I believe it was to see me trained and ordained into the service of God’s church. At the end of his/her role, she bid me farewell as she was to be assigned to the people of China. A week later Tienanmen Square became the subject of a pro-democracy uprising of students, thousands of whom were murdered or imprisoned.
Finally, A few years before my mother died I was driving to work one morning, and I had the thought that I should get off the thruway and head towards my mother’s house because something was very wrong. At the time I was in the middle of the airport project and I had a meeting that couldn’t wait so I proceeded on to Niagara Falls. When I got to work, what started as a suggestion became an overwhelming insistence and I found I had to leave . . . the thought was ‘forget the appointment – leave NOW!’ . . . and so I did. When I got to my mother’s house, she was in the midst of a stroke and couldn’t talk. I didn’t know what to do so I called my daughter Becky, who you know is an RN. She called 911 and my mom was sent to the hospital just in the nick of time. She made a full recovery and I can tell you now that it was her own guardian angel that saved her life.
I guess the bottom line here is that God asks us all the time to accept things on faith. He asks us to accept that we are saved even though we know we don’t deserve it. He asks us to believe in the sacraments of baptism and the body and blood of Christ that they have been given to us as a means of grace. Though we see only water and bread and wine . . . because we have faith we know these things to be for us the instruments God uses to give us grace. And so . . . though most of us do not see them, nor hear them, we all can take notice of the influence that God’s angels have on our world and in our lives. We know that angels are real because Jesus taught us that they are real.
And whether newly baptized or not, every Christian is ultimately a pupil in the school of Jesus Christ. We sit at the feet of our Master. We want to bring our minds and our wills, our beliefs and our standards, under his yoke. In the Upper Room Jesus said to the apostles: ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am’ (Jn. 13:13). That is, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ were no mere courtesy titles; they bore witness to a reality. Jesus Christ is our Teacher to instruct us . . . and our Lord to command us. All Christians are under the instruction and the discipline of Jesus Christ and It should be inconceivable for a Christian ever to disagree with, or to even disobey, him. Whenever we do, the credibility of our claim to be converted Christians will become clearly in doubt. For we are only truly converted if we are intellectually and morally converted . . . and we are not intellectually and morally converted if we have not subjected our minds and our wills to the yoke of Jesus Christ.