Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen
That was one of the first prayers I ever learned as a first grader in Sister Geraldine’s class. I still say it once in a while and recall the sweet introduction we six-year-olds got to the concept of a Guardian Angel, each of us told that God assigned one to us.
But then war in heaven? Heaven is the last place we would expect war to be waged. Whatever our belief about the account we read in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelations, it is a striking metaphor for the constant battle we all recognize between the forces of good and evil in our world.
The story of the great war in heaven may seem far-fetched or unbelievable fantasy for many but the great war we know here on earth is not. Like the battle between Michael and the dark spirits, it is centered around alienation and the determination of the powers of evil to triumph over goodness.
We all remember the horror we learned about in the Second World War and have lived through the Korean War, and the Cold War as well as many other familiar conflicts such as Kosovo and the Persian Gulf War. Now we see the ravages of the war in the Ukraine and it is not a big stretch to think that the genesis of it is demonic. We might add the War on Crime, the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism. War, war, war—in so many places around us. With so much energy expended on waging war on so many different fronts and levels, where will we ever find the peace which passes all understanding?
Between all the different battles being fought around us, the one that is hardest at times to win is our recognition and belief that each of us, as we are with all our quirks and failings, is God’s very own beloved made in God’s image—loved without condition. So we come here thirsting for the experience of Jacob, that blessed assurance that surely God is in this place, in our lives, in our comings and goings at every juncture—even when we do not know it.
If we are honest, we will admit that it is not always easy to believe that, especially when we are in the midst of our own personal warfare and it seems like we are losing the battle. We struggle to muster up this elusive thing we know as faith.
Today we are also celebrating the Solemnity of St. Michael and All Angels. Just as Jacob experienced God’s presence in his encounter with the angels, I believe that God continues to give us certain out of the ordinary encounters; encounters by which God allows us to have a revelation we need.
A striking example of the unexpected visitations of angels in our lives is one shared by the late Alexander Schmemann, a distinguished Russian Orthodox priest and theologian, in his witness to a group of students about why he believed in the existence of angels. I’ve told the story many times in my years as a priest but it is one that never gets stale.
When he was a young man living in Paris, Alexander Schmemann was traveling on the metro one day with his fiancée. They were very much in love and bound up in each other. The train stopped and an elderly, very ugly woman got on. She was dressed in the uniform of the Salvation Army and she sat near them. The young lovers began to whisper to each other in Russian about the grossness and ugliness of the woman.
The train came to a stop. Remember now that they are riding the metro in Paris. The old woman got up and, as she passed the two young people, she said to them in perfect Russian, “I wasn’t always ugly.” That, insisted Father Schmemann, was an angel of God who brought the shock of revelation that was needed for him to see that there was much, much more before them than an ugly old woman.
God continues to surprise us with these unexpected moments of revelation—revelation that may teach us about the unique value of another person in the eyes of God and revelation about how much God is in love with us and will always be the source of the foundation that makes life worth living.
Who are the angels that you have encountered along your journey? What lessons about life have they taught you? As you go forth into the world later this morning and again tomorrow and the day after, be aware of the angels God sends your way. Know that they are God’s messengers revealing again God’s love and care for you
Author Megan McKenna in her book Angels Unawares writes: “Perhaps we can best describe angels by what they do than by how they look. Angels instill in those who see or hear them a powerful need to obey the truth….the presence of the holy exudes from them…Angels are evidence that God is taking notice of us.”
Just as Jacob experienced God’s presence in his encounter with the angels, I believe that God continues to give us those out of the ordinary encounters through which God allows us to have a revelation. Just as God did for Alexander Schmemann and his fiancé.
Angels among us? Can we believe it? The late Episcopal Bishop John Spong wrote: “The task of religion is not to turn us into proper believers; it is to deepen the personal within us, to embrace the power of life, to expand our consciousness, in order that we may see things that eyes don’t normally see.”