This week, Monday (September 29) is Michaelmas, otherwise known as the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The Judeo-Christian mythology is richly steeped in angel lore, and angels are an important part of our faith. One thing I’ve noticed is that whenever an angel appears in the bible, the first words the angel speaks are, Don’t be afraid. I’m somewhat disappointed, because I’ve yet to find an artistic interpretation of an angel that would have to say to me – before any other words – Don’t be afraid. Most angels are syrupy-sweet, effeminate males or saccharine females, pretty and comforting. The thing is, when I see angels in visualization exercises or meditations, they are none of these things. They are strong, unearthly, intimidating. Yes, they can give comfort to me by protecting me or guiding me, but not from their appearance! I do not know whether fear is the exact word I would give to the feeling I have when I encounter an angel in these ways, but awe is good, and wonder, and mystified.
One thing sang out for me as I read through the lections for Michaelmas. First, in the reading from Genesis, Jacob has a vision of a ladder stretching to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And then, in the gospel reading, we hear Jesus say, Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. My mind conflated these two together, so that the ladder or staircase that Jacob saw in his vision – that is Jesus himself, the Son of Man. When Jesus says, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, this is the same symbolism. Jesus is the ladder to heaven, and Jesus is the stairway that we climb. Jesus upholds us, along with the angels of God, and Jesus lights our path.
Okay, so this probably makes me sound a bit like a, well, a “Jesus freak.” Of course, Anglicans and Episcopalians tend to not get freaky. We get uncomfortable when somebody tosses too many Jeeezuses at us. That might become undignified, you know, and we might end up standing on our pews, waving our arms in the air, and clapping along with a praise band… instead of sedately singing traditional hymns in four-part harmony with the Royal School trained choir wearing their starched vestments up in the choir loft. And we certainly wouldn’t admit to feeling fear of God. God, and the person of Jesus in the Trinity, is our comforter, who loves us and thinks we’re perfect even though we might drink a little too much scotch or ordain gay persons as priests and bishops. We’re pretty well off, nicely established, comfortably middle class, playing by all the rules and doing everything right. You know, just like the Pharisees.
Um, yeah, the Pharisees. Jesus wasn’t very nice to them, was he? But Jesus loves us all; he wouldn’t be scary to us, would he? I mean, we try to do everything he said, don’t we?
I have a feeling that, were Jesus to visit an Episcopal Church today, he would have plenty of things to say, all of them threatening and frightening to us. Of course, Jesus might not come as a he, either. If Jesus came to America, I’ll bet Jesus would be an eighteen-year-old girl, perhaps black or brown, struggling to tend to her younger siblings while her momma works two jobs, seriously thinking about dropping out of high school to make sure the baby’s chronic asthma stays under control. Jesus would be the one responsible for going to the grocery store, with a food stamp card and a pocket full of WIC checks. She would look longingly at the fresh fruit, glistening from the water sprayed on it, as she turned to the boxed macaroni and cheese – generic, of course – and the peanut butter and the milk. And Jesus would say, you voted to tear down the homeless shelter, where my classmate Tom lived. And you voted to make the abused girls’ home move to the next town, so my best friend Jessie didn’t have anyplace to go when her father whupped her with his belt. And you voted to not let the transit authority build bus shelters near the Wal-Mart where my momma works, because they might attract undesirables to your pretty suburbs. Well, guess what! I’m Jesus, and I am one of those undesirables.
So tomorrow, we pray:
you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order
the ministries of angels and mortals:
Mercifully grant that,
as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven,
so by your appointment
they may help and defend us here on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
We ask for God to send God’s angels to help and defend us here on earth. Just as Michael fights and defeats the dragon, we need help to defeat the dragon within ourselves. We need help to love and serve each other the way Jesus calls us to. We need help to treat each other the way all people should be treated. We need help to remember the good of all, and not just the good of ourselves. Heck, sometimes we need help to remember the good for ourselves, and not just what feels nice in the moment.
I know that God responds to these pleas for help, sending us the support and help and protection we need. Of course, we may want more than we need, but our needs are always met. Tonight, as you lie in your bed waiting for sleep to claim you, bring to mind someone you know who seems beleagured right now. Hold that person in your thoughts, in your feelings; visualize them in your mind. Ask for God to send a holy angel to help and defend this person, and visualize the divine light surrounding and permeating them. You may name the thing that this person needs help with, or you may trust in God to know what is best. Hold the person within that light, soaking in it, bathing in it. And God will answer the call.
I often find that I’m unable to do this for myself, when I am particularly in need. There are times I feel that I’m being attacked by the dragon, and I fall down and cry, unable to find the clarity to pray for help and protection, unable to find that divine light to bathe myself in. But I do this visualization for those I love, those who I know are in need.
Tomorrow, as you go about your day, I hope that you will find blessings.
May Gabriel the herald whisper God’s tidings into your ears.
May Uriel the light of God illuminate your path.
May Raphael the healer wash your body clean and give you peace.
May Michael the defender stand watch over you and protect you.
May God the Father hold you in God’s arms and treasure you.
May Jesus the Son hold your hand and walk with you on your journey.
And may the Holy Spirit kiss your cheeks with the breath of the wind, quench your thirst, and turn your heart to God.