Angels, according to popular legend, are delicate beings pictured with harps and gossamer wings. You’ve probably seen the roly-poly cherub type on Valentines. Others in artwork, TV, video games, and the movies often appear in idealized human form. Judging from the images of angels on everything from Christmas decorations to cemetery statuary, it can often be hard to tell what angels actually do. Play musical instruments, perhaps? Represent some sort of “connection” between this world and the next? Bring good luck? Cause bells to tinkle and stars to twinkle?
This Sunday coincides with the church festival day for September 29 called “The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.” It’s an opportunity to encounter an entirely different breed of angel—the real sort depicted in the Scriptures. The Feast of St. Michael rolls around every September 29; since that date falls on a Sunday this year, we have the perfect opportunity as we gather together for worship to consider what angels are, what they do, and why it matters. Angels, though they are not the focus of the salvation story (that focus will always be Jesus), are neither just an extraneous part of it. They are distinct from God. They are created beings. Some angels (like Satan) rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven. But the account of Satan’s (“the Deceiver’s”) ultimate demise is told by the author of the Book of Revelation (read it here): God’s people, together with Michael the arch- (or “lead”) angel, have overcome the Deceiver by “the blood of the Lamb” (Jesus) and “the word of their testimony” about Jesus (12:12)! All of this is the culmination of what angels and archangels have done throughout the ages to communicate the reign of God in word and deed when such tangible expression of God’s reign was needed. From the sword-wielding cherubim posted at the entrance to the Garden of Eden in Genesis (3:24) to the angel who testifies to the final victory over evil in the book of Revelation (ch. 22), angels and archangels in the Scriptures are most often revealed as warriors and messengers….sometimes both at the same time. The people of God thrive, the people of God live to pass on the story of salvation and to anticipate the joys of heaven with sins forgiven, as a result.
When Jesus says that he has seen Satan’s defeat (that text from Luke 10 may be read here) it is not surprising that his vision accompanies the preaching of the 72 disciples he had just sent out They discover, to their utter joy and amazement, that “the demons are subject to [them] in [Christ’s] name.” Today as the pastors and messengers of God preach and share the Good News of Abundant Life in new places…there may be not be any lightning. There may not be any glorious fanfare of angelic battle. There may not be any trampling on scorpions and serpents…or any immediately obvious advantage gained over the powers of evil at work in the world at all. Yet the work of St. Michael and all angels continues, even if unseen. The promise of Psalm 91 is ours: “[The Most High] will command his angels to guard you in all your ways. ..you will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (11-13).
Luther was once famously quoted as saying that “the acknowledgment of angels is needful in the Church” (Luther’s Table Talk). No wonder, then, that the Church has always confessed faith in angels. It is why every time we say aloud the words of the Apostles’ Creed we say that we “believe in one God . . . maker of . . . all things visible and invisible.” It’s why we pray each Sunday as we prepare to receive the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion that we “laud and magnify” God’s glorious name “with angels and archangels.”
We’re not alone in the world. Not only do we have each other….we have the armies of heaven on our side! “Deliver us from evil,” we pray. With the armies of heaven fighting alongside the proclamation of God’s messengers today is there any reason to doubt the Deceiver will be silenced once and for all…any reason to doubt the answer to that prayer?