Sunday September 26, 2010
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Daniels
The Ministry of the Angels
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
A feast day which honors with special intention St. Michael, the archangel, and all angels, is an excellent opportunity to remember the ministry of the heavenly host, a ministry of the angelic office from the very beginning, to the present day.
Both past, present, and, we are told, future: the angels in both the Old and New Testaments, who are unfallen creatures, are associated with the protection of, and ministry to, all of humanity – we fallen creatures, in the beginning and at the end of days. Michael, especially, we could say, is the patron angel of the apocalypse. The prophet Daniel, for example, reports how Michael is Israel’s protector; he protects God’s chosen people against the Persian kings, and against Alexander the Great, all of whom had threatened Israel’s safety. In those turbulent, and doubtlessly terrifying times, Michael and the angels were Israel’s representatives, on earth, and in heaven. It is Michael, even, that serves as the angelic defender of Israel at the resurrection of the dead, also in Daniel – the only explicit reference to resurrection found in the Hebrew scriptures. There, Michael the archangel serves as the Advocate with God, a role that Christian tradition will later associate with Jesus.
But, of course, it isn’t only Michael that we celebrate today; it’s St. Michael and All (the) Angels, including such luminaries of the heavenly court as Michael’s fellow archangels Gabriel and Raphael. Gabriel, of course, visited Mary at the Annunciation; in the Apocrypha, Raphael and other angels are identified as having been entrusted with the care and guardianship of children, especially those in need.
This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though; we could spend the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening simply listing the appearances of angels in Scripture: from the cherubim closing off the garden of Eden with a flaming sword in the opening pages of Genesis, all the way through to Jesus speaking through St. John the Divine in the closing verses of Revelation. If my admittedly unscientific estimate is correct, out of the 66 canonical books in the Bible, 40 of them – 60% – reference angels to a greater or lesser degree.
And what do we see, when we review this feast of angelic testimony in Scripture?
We find that it has been the free choice of angels to praise God with worship and service, and a particularly prominent way of their serving God is in acting as messengers, as heralds of good news, sharing with the world the reality of the kingdom of God. They are witnesses, testifiers, to God’s great generosity and love: Gabriel said to Mary, “You have found favor with God.” Angels told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son; angels ordained Isaiah as a prophet; one helped Peter escape from prison. They aren’t the only messengers, of course; St. Augustine refers to John the Baptist, Paul, and Christ himself as angels, in their capacity as messengers from God; and his mother Monnica thinks of the man who led Augustine to Christianity, the bishop Ambrose, in the same way.
This activity of angels – worship and service – is important, both in what it says about them, and in what it says about God.
For example, as fellow witnesses to God’s glory, we have common cause with them, which is the worship of God. And we affirm that, at every celebration of the Mass, when, as the Eucharistic prayer is beginning, we pray, “Therefore, with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven…” With them in that moment we are united in a chorus of praise: it is not only we who are gathered locally who are praising God; not only Christians around the world; but with all servants of God, “in heaven and on earth, and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them,” as Revelation says, with all of them we laud and magnify his glorious name. In that moment, we all sing in unison, and our terrestrial praise joins their celestial praise and with one voice we all sing, “Holy, holy, holy.” This was wonderfully expressed by John Paul II, who wrote that, in this preface to the Sanctus, the “with angels and archangels,” the Church, he wrote, “unites herself … to those first adorers of God...”¹ Angels are those who first adored God, and we sing in unison with them; that is our privilege, that is their privilege, to worship with love the one who first loved us.
But this presence of the angels also says something important about God. That is, the ministry of the angels is further testimony that God’s creation is, you could say, tilted in our favor; that the design of not only the universe, but of all created reality, including the angels, is pointed towards a goal, and that goal is our salvation. In other words, this is not Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill, though it may seem that way sometimes; it is much more like a table having been set, a great feast there for our taking, the door open, and the host inviting us in. And the angels show us that all of creation – in heaven and on earth – is encouraging us toward that table, making straight the way; all of creation points us toward the place that has been reserved for us, the one with our name on it. The works of the angels are part of God’s plan for all the universe, that we be found and brought home. The angels are one part of this eternal reaching-out; another way that God’s invitation is proclaimed across time and space. All of creation witnesses to redemption.
So the presence of angels, the ministry of angels – these are witnesses to the great love of God in Christ. We honor St. Michael and all the angels today because of their role in God’s great plan of salvation for the world; and with them, in a chorus of praise, we give thanks.
In the name of God: Father, Son & Holy Ghost. Amen.
¹John Paul II, “Angels Participate in the History of Salvation.” August 6, 1986.