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Sunday September 27, 2009
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

There Are Angels

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.” This is what the Cherubim and Seraphim cry at the throne of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Isaiah saw and heard it, and he wrote it in his book. We say it, or hear it sung, as the Sanctus at every Mass.

The Cherubim and Seraphim are the angels who, according to Scripture, guard and purify the approach to the throne of Godhead, whether at the tree of life in Eden or the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. And if heaven and earth are full of God’s glory, then they are full of angels, the messengers and ministering spirits of God. Certainly Holy Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is full of the angels.

Angels are present at the critical moments. At the Creation, the morning stars gathered together and the sons of God shouted for joy. These are angelic spirits, the pure spiritual beings created by God to watch over and be involved with every aspect of the world, from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic, from the oversight of galaxies to the insight of the molecules. From stars to stones, there is truly no such thing as an inanimate object, and free angelic spirits are on the scene in them all.

At the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God, the angels were on hand. The archangel Gabriel announced his birth and his name to the Virgin Mary, who conceived Jesus in her flesh by heeding his Word. Angels celebrated the baby’s birth and protected him from harm. Angels ministered to Christ in his Temptation in the wilderness and at his Agony in the Garden. Though he could have called upon them in force, he chose the way of self-emptying and sacrifice, revealing the mystery of Love; that is, of the God who is Love, in our own human nature. Angels announced his Resurrection at the Empty Tomb. Angels declared his Ascension. Angels will gather the elect, the saints, from the four winds, at Christ’s glorious return and the beginning of the new heavens and the new earth.

Angels have ranks: Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Archangels, Angels. Nine ranks at least, according to the Church Theologians, and these ranks are related to the works the angels do. The angels have names: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and each name proclaims the greatness of the Lord in some way.

Angels are created free spiritual beings. They are not constrained by time or space, but they are defined by a choice, made once and for all time, to serve or not to serve the Lord. Thus Lucifer, once the bearer of the light, fell to create the depths of hell, where he reigns as the Dark Lord of the rebellion. Scripture seems to say that one third of the angel spirits joined him in this cataclysmic fall. God, out of love, permits this rebellion against himself to exist; he has not obliterated it. One third is a lot. But if heaven were a congress, the good would still posses the supermajority of two thirds.

In any case heaven is a kingdom, with Christ Jesus, the Lord God of Hosts (the angel hosts), as its King. His Kingdom is not of this world, not the sort of kingdom maintained by force but by the freedom of love and service. Lucifer, Satan, is a defeated rebel, but his defeat has been secured not by force of arms but by the sacrifice of love, in which the Lord God of Hosts won his battle by being lifted high upon his cross. That is how he draws the whole world to himself, by his crucified arms stretched out in love.

The fall of the angels may help explain why there is evil in the world, disorder which seems far beyond the realm of man. The Apostle says the whole creation, not just mankind, aches and groans for the Redemption, the fullness of which will come only when Christ has put all things under his feet and God is truly all in all. We ourselves, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, are part of that cosmic aching and groaning for redemption.

The vision of Saint John in Revelation, of Saint Michael casting Satan out of heaven, and then of the struggle on earth against Satan and his minions, shows us what is behind the everyday ordinary scenes of trying to do good and to resist evil, of persevering and repenting and turning again, of showing kindness and good will to the very least of our brothers and sisters. At the center of Saint John’s vision, when he sees heaven opened, is the Mystic Lamb of God. The Lamb appears as one slain, and yet he is standing, living and victorious. Only the Lamb can open the seven seals, the deep mysteries of all of life, and the Lamb is Love Incarnate, God Almighty, the Lord God of Hosts – the hosts of angelic spirits whose myriads fill heaven and earth with glory.

Just around the corner of your conscience, just behind you or perhaps in front of you, is your guardian angel who was assigned to you when you were baptized. This angel is part of God’s personal presence in your life, immediate, almost palpable, but very much there. Those issues of thought, word and deed which are free occasions that involve the possibility of sin, of the choice between good or evil, are of great concern to this angel, because the occasions are steps on life’s way towards, or away from, the God who set us on life’s way in the first place.

Jesus Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers by his death and resurrection, but God will not force us through the door. We must walk through it, and choose to do so. The steps must be made; the steps define who and what we are. Unlike the angels, who decide for all time once and for all in spiritual purity, mortals are flesh and blood, and we walk along and sometimes stumble, day by day, in a pilgrim’s journey. But we are not alone. Not only do we have fellow pilgrims (saints and members of Christ), we have those angels, God’s ministering spirits, with us. We entertain them unawares for the most part. But depend upon it: as sure as God is love, and as sure as love requires freedom, the angels are here. They help us along, all the way into heaven, where the greatest of them lead the chorus: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.