Friday, October 2, 2015

Saint Michael and All Angels 2015

People are fascinated by Angels. Why wouldn’t they be? The idea that there are other intelligences other than human beings is a belief that is truly ageless. Every people and culture has had some belief that their lives were affected or guided by invisible agents. Many civilizations have worshipped them as gods, built temples to them, and told stories about their exploits. Tribal and indigenous peoples continue to see the world as one inhabited by good and evil spirits as well. Even in our age, where belief in the Spiritual world has waned among many, a preoccupation with extra-terrestrial lifeforms and U.F.O’s persist.

Others have dismissed all such notions as superstition, but the Christian faith has not. The Bible speaks of these invisible, spiritual entities as Angels. Like us, angels are created beings. They occupy a place on the hierarchy of being above those of mortal men. They inhabit the spiritual world and even surround the very throne of God, offering him worship continually. Although as Psalm 8 reminds us, God has made us a little lower than the Angels, he has given us a destiny even greater than those of the Angels. He has appointed these heavenly beings to be our servants and to be his messengers to us, indeed the word ‘angel’ simply means messenger.

Not all the angelic host is so kindly disposed to the human race however. The scriptures also speak of rebellious, fallen angels, who bear a violent hatred and jealousy toward the human race and the place of honor God has given us. There is war in the spiritual world between the servants of God and the servants of the leader of the angelic rebellion, whom scripture calls Satan.
The chief opposition to Satan among the angelic hosts is Saint Michael, the Archangel. In our reading from Revelation he is described as leading the armies of faithful angels in battle against Satan, the great dragon. He succeeds in casting Satan from heaven. In Revelation 20, an unnamed angel who may be Michael as well, binds Satan and throws him into the abyss.

Because of this place of prominence Michael has in the battle against evil, many commentators have insisted that Michael must be identified with the pre-incarnate Christ. This is the belief of the sect called the Jehovah Witnesses, but it is also the opinion of many Protestants as well. I think this is a misguided interpretation for a number of reasons, among them being what is written about Saint Michael in the book of Jude. He is described as disputing over the body of Moses with Satan, an incident not recorded in the Old Testament but part of ancient Jewish tradition. Saint Jude tells us that Michael did not presume to stand in Judgement against Satan himself, acting on his own authority, but instead said, “The Lord rebuke you!” This incident wouldn’t make much sense if Michael was himself the Lord. While Michael is never referred to as Lord, Jesus is, and he seemed to have no qualms about openly rebuking Satan. Jesus openly identifies with God, but Michael’s name which is a rhetorical question, “Who is like God?” is a clear rejection of divinity.

Michael is not Christ, but he is an archangel. He has been identified with the angel that Joshua saw at Jericho, the commander of the armies of the Lord. In the book of Daniel he is called, the great prince who stands guard over the people of Israel and he is depicted as contending against the spirit of Persia for Israel’s sake. Not only was he believed to be Israel’s champion but he is also believed to be the guardian and defender of the Church against the devil.

Michael is not the only Angel named is scripture. There is also the Angel Gabriel, which means, “God is my strength”. Gabriel is often the one sent to deliver a revelation or a message from God. He is the interpreter of the prophet’s visions in book of Daniel.  In the Gospel of Luke he appears to Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist, and then again to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation where he tells her that she has conceived Christ in her womb. He is sometimes, especially in later traditions, identified as the Angel that announces the second coming of the Lord.  Incidentally he also plays a central role in the Islamic faith as the deliverer of the Holy Quran to Muhammad.

Saint Raphael the Archangel is known to us from the apocrypha book of Tobit, where he is called “one of the seven who stand before the Lord.” His name means, “God Heals.” He disguises himself in human form and becomes the traveling companion of Tobiah, the son of Tobit. Under cover he goes by the name Azarias. Along the way he serves as a protector from a demonic spirit and he restores the sight of Tobit.  The Early Church—because of his reputation as a healer—has also associated him with the angel that would stir the water at Bathesadia in the Gospel of John.

In the Anglican tradition Uriel is listed as the fourth Archangel. His name means, “God is my Light.” He appears in the apocryphal book of 2 Esdras in which he is sent by God to instruct the Prophet Ezra. In some sources he is named as the Angel who stands at the entrance of Eden with a flaming sword. Perhaps because of his association with fire and light, in the Anglican tradition he is the patron of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

We should feel encouraged to know that there are innumerable angels that always work on our behalf. The enemies of our souls are many, but those who are for us are more. Although angels appear throughout the bible, there are precious few angels named in scripture and of the ones who are named we are told very little. They are creatures that instead prefer to work behind the scenes invisibly on our behalf. They are content to give glory to God. Let us all strive to perform our own ministries in the same way.