THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not;
neither was their place found any more in heaven.
(Rev. xii. 7)
Today we celebrate our Patronal Feast. A Patronal Feast refers to the Patron Saint or Angel for whom certain churches, basilicas, or cathedrals are named. Our Patrons are St. Michael, who happens to be both a Saint and an Angel, and all the other Angels. St. Michael has the added distinction of being the Commander in Chief of the Angelic Host. So he and his company of Angels surround and defend us in this Church.
Of course, since the time of the Reformation Protestant-minded people have been made nervous by the Angels since they sense that their mediatorial vocation is frighteningly close to that of the Saints. Being defined by small portions of their Bibles only, they live in fear of Popish plots and thus inoculate themselves against the help that God intends should come from the Angels and Saints. They say that Jesus alone is neededwhen the truth of the matter is that Jesus has always been at work in the lives of Angels and Saints and longs to come alive in us too! We do well to remember that Christ invited the Angel Gabriel to pave the way for His conception and birth. And then at His Transfiguration, He called Saints Moses and Elijah down from Heaven to reveal a vision of man’s redemption. From what the Bible teaches us, Jesus is always at work in the lives of all who in Him have died to themselves and come alive to God the Father. In so far as His creatures are right with God the Father, they must share in His life and His meaning. And so we believe that there have ever been Angels and Men in whom Christ is alive so completely that they are with Him already in His Kingdom. Michael and the Good Angels have never parted from Him. And if Moses and Elijah were translated to Heaven, I dare say that the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Apostles and the Faithful in all ages have already taken their rightful place in Christ’s reconciliation of time with eternity as members of His Mystical Body.
So let us contemplate the Angels. Angels are intellectual substances. The word angel comes to us from the Greekaggelos, and it means messenger, envoy, or one who is sent. They do not have bodies but are pure spirits. Angels, like everything else that God has created, are made good. Those Good Angels who figure most prominently in Scripture are Michael and Gabriel. Then there are hosts of anonymous angels who visit the Shepherds prior to Christ’s birth and celebrate with them after, who minister to Jesus after His temptations in the wilderness, are with Him in last days of His bitter agony, assist at the Resurrection, and then prepare the Apostles at His Ascension for Pentecost. Angels liberated both Peter and Paul on two separate occasions from prison. And in general, as Richard Hooker says, even now in us they behold themselves beneath themselves, see what we share, and hope that we might join them and resemble God. (E.P. i. iv)
But from Scripture, we know also that some of the angels rebelled against God and His goodness at the moment of their creation. Out of pride and then envy they treacherously embraced darkness. And so, as St. John tells us in this morning’s Epistle, There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Most commentators say that St. John is speaking of the original warfare that erupted when the Angels of Light realized what some of their companions had done. Those who rebelled became the Angels of Darkness, imaged by St. John as the Dragon and his army of bad angels. St. John reminds us that the origins of sin and evil emerge from these rational, free-willing angelic creatures who chose to reject God. St. Augustine tells us that the origin of sin is found on the First Day of Creation. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. i. 3,4) God had already made the heavens and earth, and then He made light. But this is not physical light that God created since He had not yet made the sun and the moon. So Augustine insists that this must be the spiritual light or the light that is the life of the angels that God has made. God did not create the darkness but divided the light from the darkness. Augustine tells us that the darkness must be an image for the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs and defines all creation. So because the good angels live in the Light of God, they are called created light and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness and so are banished to the everlasting spiritual Night in alienation from God’s Light. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
So sin is a spiritual problem, and it originates with pure spirits or angels who reject God’s rule and governance. Sin is a rejection of God, borne out of envy and pride. St. John tells us that the bad angelsenvied God’s wisdom and love and resented His power. Not content with being derivative creatures whose illumination and enlightenment depended always on the Light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Looking away from God, they looked to themselves, and in that moment became spiritual darkness. Spiritual self-absorption or narcissism is always and ever darkness because it refuses to submit to the Creator’s Light, which alone gives meaning and purpose to life. Thus the bad angels become a community of bad faith, ill will, and deception.
Michael and his army of Good Angels, full of all that God makes them to be, fought against the bad angels and banished them from Heaven. The Good Angels embrace God’s Light alone and cannot endure the presence of the malevolent ill will and darkness of Satan and his peers. Those angels whose future and destiny belong to God receive and return His Light and Love without ceasing. Because they are intellectual spirits, the reason and meaning of all creation are discerned and returned to God from them. In them, we find a pattern of perpetual obedience to God’s will in heaven that we should imitate on earth. They are moved and defined by God’s Word alone. When they embrace God’s Word, they are one with Jesus as He works redemption into fallen humanity. When the Word is made flesh in us, they offer to surround us with Heavenly protection, aid, and assistance.
Michael is the Chief of All the Angels, and his name Michael means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Arcistrategos, or the General Commanding Officer. Having cast Satan and his minions out of Heaven, Michael and his soldiers desire without ceasing to frustrate their power on earth. As Christ’s ministering spirits, they are His true friends, and so their role and vocation are to visit us with the protection and care that they receive from Jesus. The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) What they long for us to find in Jesus is the purification of our souls, the illumination of our minds, and unbreakable unification with our Heavenly Father. So they encourage our spiritual cleansing, education, and unity with God. They intend to surround and defend us so that Christ may work His redemption into us. They come at Christ’s bidding. Moved by the Father’s Word, and driven by the Holy Spirit, they desire to stir us into that pattern which forever longs for God, loves Him, and serves Him in uninterrupted ecstatic adoration.
Today as we honor and venerate St. Michael and All Angels, with them we know that as there was war in heaven, until the end times there will be war on earth. Nothing that is good and true can be won or retained without a struggle. The good must always hold their heritage at the price of ceaseless vigilance. He who would attain and keep truth and prove himself faithful to it must be prepared to engage in constant battle…Every attempt to make earth more in harmony with heaven will be challenged. (The Christian Year in the Church Times, p. 274) Michael and his Angels are fighting constantly so that the victory of God’s Light over darkness in Heaven and on earth in Jesus Christ might be acknowledged and embraced. Their battle extends from God’s Heavenly throne to His earthly footstool. Their vocation or calling is to lift us up and into the realm of spiritual unity with God. They do not selfishly bask in the fruits of their own accomplishments. Their labor is God’s work and it will endure as long as time remains for the salvation of souls before the Second Coming.
William Blake reminds us that, It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God only. And this is that holiness which alone will dispel and scatter all manner of darkness, making us into the children of the Light. (1 Thes. v. 5) In closing let us hear the awe-struck gratitude of the poet at the passionate ministry of angels for us:
And is there care in Heaven? And is there love
In Heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is: else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts: but O the exceeding Grace
Of Highest God! That loves His creatures so,
And all His works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels He sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked men, to serve his wicked foe!
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succor us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skyes like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch, and dewly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard!
(Fairie Queene: ii, vii, 8)
Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence. Paul Claudel
Trinity tide is full of examples taken from Scripture that lead the faithful pilgrim into the experience of the Real Presence of God. And I am not speaking of somehow feeling God in the way that we feel the cold or heat, feel the pressure of another body against our own, or feel anything sensibly or tangibly. I am speaking of a kind of spiritual feeling, whose power and strength assure the mind, fortify conviction, and infuse man’s inner being with the stable and unchanging determination of God’s power. I am talking about an inward and spiritual perception and sensation of God’s presence that halts and governs the uncertain and changing here and now of earthly existence, only to carry it progressively into the permanent realm of truth, beauty, and goodness. More specifically in relation to today’s Lections, I am trying to describe the belief that opens itself up to the power of God’s love in Jesus’ suffering and death. This is the kind of faith that finds His suffering and death to be the model and pattern for the man who would find everlasting life.
So let us travel back in time, and find ourselves with Jesus in about the year 30 A.D.. We find ourselves in the city of Nain. Nain is a desolate place emptied of any civil society. Dean Stanley tells us that on a rugged and barren ridge, in an isolated place, sits the ruined village of Endor or Nain. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. (Trench: Miracles) The place is about eight miles south of Nazareth and has a population of about 1,600 Muslims, who descend from those who defeated and expelled the last of the Latin Christians who dwelt in that place. A Franciscan Church, renovated in the 19th century, sits silently waiting for the great Christian revival that is brewing even now. Both the village and its church are rooted and grounded in a kind of death that awaits Resurrection from without. Now when Jesus came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. (St. Luke vii. 12) We read that a widow woman’s tears have been brought on by the recent death of her only son. Her neighbors are silent, fearing, no doubt, that their words would only stand to add to her pain. Her agony is acute because her nearest and dearest both are gone. Surely she felt incomprehension as God’s allowed for the death of her only son to follow that of his father. But she says nothing. Loss is loss and grief must be allowed to run their course. For now there seems to be no consolation, relief, or hope. With the psalmist this morning, she cries inwardly and spiritually, the sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. (Psalm cxvi. 3)
It is into this pain and agony of soul that Christ comes. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. (St. Luke vii. 13-15) When Jesus approaches, all are still. He says with St. Paul this morning, I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Galatians vi. 11) Christ comes into this situation as one who will bear the sorrow and shoulder the relief. He will offer a kind of compassion that neither she nor the mourners have ever experienced. His words will be few but their power swift and efficacious. His pity will upturn death and make new life. God’s Word, through Whom all things are made, acts upon the inner, spiritual man. The body dies, but the soul lives on and must be awakened. God is ever with the soul and is now about to command its reanimation of the decaying corpse. The Word is spoken and the same Love that gave the Mother joy when her man-child was born into the world now vanquishes death in the wake of new life. The only words that emerge out of this situation come from the resuscitated youth. With the psalmist he sings, The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed, therefore have I spoken…(Psalm cxvi 6-10) The young man speaks, and mirrors the thoughts of his mother’s heart. He has new life; so too does she. The Word made Flesh has given him words -words of new life, words emerging from spiritual and physical rejuvenation, words that will commence the spiritual awakening of the young man for a higher life, through which, indeed, alone the joy of the mother could become true and abiding (Trench, Miracles) as Archbishop Trench remarks. Only then do the others respond. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. (St. Luke vii. 16)
The point of this morning’s Gospel runs far deeper than the surface-level details of an historical event. Historical experiences must find their respective meaning in the truth that the Spirit brings. Think about the widow of Nain. She is confronted with a spiritual problem; on the one hand she can mourn, despair, and give up on life because the last and final source of her comfort, peace, and joy has been removed. With the cause of her life’s joy now gone, she is left with little but her own death. Perhaps she has forgotten the power of God in human life. Perhaps nothing short of a dramatic surge of this power in her son’s resuscitation would pry her out of the jaws of his death, a death that even now is threatening to fill her soul with despair. One thing is clear, Jesus will use today’s miracle to draw both her and us away from earthly sorrow and despair so that we might learn to lean solely on His power of salvation and deliverance.
God in Jesus Christ is all-powerful. Yet, this power is not to be sought out chiefly in the remedy for human illness or the denial of death. Sometimes God surprises us as He has in this morning’s Gospel Miracle. We do well to remember that the Widow of Nain did not approach Jesus. Jesus sought her out. He, the Lord of Life, encountered a train of earthly death and reversed its course. He gives the woman and her son another chance to follow Him into a far more profound kind of death that leads to true life. He does this at all times throughout history. Doctors often come up with cures for earthly disease. Wouldn’t it be a miracle if more men and women used the extended time in the healing of their bodies for the salvation of their souls?
Earthly suffering and death will visit us all. Sometimes it happens sooner and sometimes later. When it happens sooner, we call it an untimely tragedy. When it happens later, these days at any rate, we tend to sue. Evidently, death isn’t supposed to happen. The adolescent age we inhabit kicks and screams in vain at its inevitability. Not content to twist and contort the natural life into perverse and profane uses for which it was never intended, our age seems bent madly on finding a way to have it last forever. But since they cannot eliminate death, they pretend, again in vain, that we all ought to be ushered into a comfortable kind of nirvana.
Of course the interesting thing about death is that we are powerless over it. No matter how hard we try, in the end, we cannot resist it. The best we can do is to try to delay its immanent arrival. But to what use? Today’s Gospel leads us into a far more difficult truth. Christ is Lord of life and death. And if this is the case, hadn’t we better start getting right with Him? He who called the son of the Widow of Nain out of death is calling us out of death here and now. Of course He calls us out of spiritual death. If we are alive to the world, the flesh, and the devil, in the eyes of God we are as good as dead already. This means that we have not, as yet, arranged to get ourselves right with God. Oh, you protest, but I am a good person. Indeed. I can assure you that Hell is full of good and respectable people. Yes, that’s right, good and respectable earthly citizens of the City of Man go to Hell because they have never needed Heaven’s God or shared His Goodness.
So we ought to ask ourselves this day if we are spiritually alive or dead. Of course, I don’t mean if we are physically alive. You all are breathing even if you’re not up to much more. But are we spiritually alive or spiritually dead? Maybe we are spiritually alive on Sunday morning for all or part of the service. Maybe we are spiritually dead when it comes time for giving to God first both prayerfully and materially. To be spiritually alive we must allow Christ to fill our suffering with His presence. Suffering hurts. Maybe we need to hurt some before His death kicks into our lives. Maybe we need to hurt truly and spiritually in order to pass on His Resurrection to others.
Again, today St. Paul says this to the Church at Ephesus: Faint not at my tribulation for you, which is your glory. (Eph. iii. 13) St. Paul is suffering his own death so that Christ may live in Him and so that he might share the Lord’s life with others.Oswald Chambers says this about our spiritual suffering and death.
No one experiences complete sanctification without going through a “white funeral” — the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crucial moment of change through death, sanctification will never be more than an elusive dream. There must be a “white funeral,” a death with only one resurrection— a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. (My Utmost…Jan. 15)
Have you been to your own white funeral yet? Let us suffer it to come to pass. Let us allow Him to fill [our suffering] with His presence. If we allow it, His presence willcleanse and defend us…keep [us] in safety…and preserve [us] evermore by that help and goodness that will ensure our salvation.
Is Jesus the living Son of God, the Saviour, the Deliverer, the Mediator, the Advocate,
the Judge for you? Is He is the Logos of God in your heart and soul? If He is, then He is the reason, truth, goodness, and beauty that animates your life. If He is, then He is the ruling and governing principle of your whole existence. He then indwells your heart by His Grace and through the Holy Spirit. He then moves and defines you. He enables you to die to sin and come alive to righteousness.
The problem with most Christians today is that they treat Jesus as a dead man only to be related to as past history. Most Christians are practical atheists. This is why they are able with ease to say -mostly about moral matters, “that doesn’t bother me.” Everything that is going on in our world around us should bother us. 95% of it is filth, pollution, perversion, and corruption. 95% of it is sin, plain and simple. 95% of is moved and defined by the fear of offending sinners. Sinners need to be offended. We need to be offended. We are all sinners! Our God is offensive. He loves us enough to tell us, in Jesus, that what we are doing is not right but wrong and not good but evil! He loves us enough to tell us that if we do not shape up we shall be shipped off to Hell, forever!
If you are a Sacramental Christian -as all Christians must be, the next time you go to the Altar Rail, when you partake of bread and wine, believe that it becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus the Saviour. Believe that He enters into you to purge you of your sin and to infuse His righteousness into your body, soul, and spirit. Believe and allow Him to have His way with you. Believe and remember what He has done for you in dying on the Cross. Believe and remember that He has risen and is ascended and still wants you from His seat of Glory in Heaven. Remember and be moved by the Indwelling Saviour of the World. Be moved and share Him from your heart to the heart of another.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: