A prayer for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, observed today:
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Finally, a favorite angel quote:
Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
When I was in college, I went through a period of estrangement from my father. My folks had recently divorced and I was not particularly well equipped to handle that. After a while, it became clear that shutting down the relationship was not the best way to go. I invited my father to come to my college to take me to dinner or something. I waited for him at the gate of my ivory-tower campus with more preppies per inch than any place I’d ever been before.
As I waited with apprehension, a young man approached me and started to talk. He may have been homeless. He was unshaven. Clothes were a mess. He could have used a shower. I was pretty sure he was from town and not a student. My defenses were up. I waited for him to hit me up for money. That didn’t happen. We chatted for a minute or two. Then he asked if he could pray for me. He put his hands on my forehead. All I can say was that I felt power. And then he was gone.
Every now and then someone asks if I believe in angels. I don’t always tell the story, but as I fashion an answer, I remember my encounter with this mysterious person. Maybe it was just some crazy religious zealot who happened to show up. But at a moment when I needed a message that I was not alone, I got that message loud and clear. And when I get asked if I believe in angels, I think of this scruffy guy, who looked a lot different than Fra Angelico imagined angels. I answer that I believe in angels. Can’t explain them. But I do believe.
Angel means different things to different people. That person is an angel = pure goodness. I’m no angel = I have messed up. You’re an angel = you did what I wanted you to do. But the translation of the word is simple and expansive. It means messenger.
The Bible is full of stories of angels who show up at key moments to deliver important messages. Sometimes it takes something extraordinary to deliver a message with full force. An angel bars Adam and Eve from the garden, sending the message that they can’t stay in paradise any more. Abraham and Sarah entertain strangers and come to find out they’ve hosted angels who tell them that in their advanced age, they will be parents. They had thought such a thing was laughable. An angel wrestles with Jacob before he experiences reconciliation with a brother he had cheated. An angel comes to Mary to tell her that her young teenage life was about to change, big time. One or two of them break the news that the crucified Lord was not really dead. And on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, we read about angels who fight for right when the world seems to be falling apart.
Maybe we could use some angels right now.
Artists have fun with imagery of angels. This cartoonist enjoys the work of imagination, wondering what they look like. But the real point is that the Holy One seems to find all kinds of ways to get a message across. I take it as a way for us to realize that the gate of heaven is closer than we think, as we read in the book of Genesis (see citation above).
On this feast of St. Michael and All Angels, maybe you can summon up a story about angels. Or maybe you think this is crazy talk. But if you’ve had occasion to get a message from beyond, give thanks for it. Celebrate it. And keep your eyes opened, because you may well have the opportunity to entertain angels without even knowing it.
A minister was once asked if he believed in infant baptism. He answered: “Believe in it? I’ve seen it!” I sort of feel that way about angels.
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