The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
September 26-27, 2009
Text: Matthew 18:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
The season of Pentecost or as we used to call it Trinity, historically has been divided into four sections. The three year lectionary that we currently use, does follow this as closely as the old one year lectionary did. The first portion ran from Trinity Sunday to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, on June 24. It focuses on the confession of the Church. The second quarter ran from the end of June until mid August - the Feast of St. Laurence. St. Laurence was, traditionally, the only non Biblical saint celebrated in the Lutheran calandar. This time was focused on the Faith of the Church. The third quarter run from St. Laurence until the end of the September. This time was focused on the work of the Church. This is why mission festivals were traditionally celebrated in late August or September. The final quarter of the Pentecost season begins with the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - September 29 - and runs through the Sunday of Fulfillment, which marks the end of the Church year. This time is focused on the last things - heaven, hell, death, eternal life, the return of Christ, and the last judgement. We begin our look heavenward with a look at the ministry of angels.
The ministry of angels was considered so important that the only hymn written by Luther’s co-worker Philip Melanchthon was our opening hymn. It is dedicated to the ministry of the angels. First we must ask what are angels? There are many misconceptions. Angel are not dead people. We don’t die and become angels. Angels are a separate creation of God. We don’t know when they were created. There are two schools of thought on this. One is that everything was created in the six days recorded in Genesis. In this context, they are usually seen as being created on day five or six. An alternate view is that the six days of creation are a record of only the creation of this universe. C. S. Lewis appears to have embraced this idea. And thus the angels were created prior to the creation of this universe. Angels are spirits. They can appear in bodily form but they do not have bodies as such. Angels, in scripture, are always male, though we don’t know if maleness and femaleness have any meaning when applied to them. They are often described as appearing as young men. Thus artists usually show them without facial hair. This would be a reasonable depiction, since man, in a Jewish context would be any male over twelve years of age. So young man would likely mean a teenager.
Some of the angels, prior to man’s fall into sin, rebelled against God. Lucifer or Satan was a prince among the angels. It appears from Scripture that his special job was to be God’s appointed advocate for mankind. He rebelled from this role to become man’s accuser. Christ Himself takes Satan’s place as our advocate before God the Father. Thus, the demons and devils were once holy angels, created for mankind’s good. Those who did not rebel were confirmed by God in their righteousness and can no longer fall into sin.
We know that there are ranks of angels. But we do not know all ranks or their relationship one to the other. We only know three angels by name. All other names for angels must be considered suspect, at best. From Scripture we know the names of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. And from the Apocrypha we know the name of the archangel Rafael. While we do not consider the Apocrypha to be Scripture, that is God’s Word, we do consider it to be reliable, and Lutheranism has always accepted that there is indeed an archangel named Rafael. You will even find references to Rafael in some of the older Lutheran liturgies. Rafael is seen as a special protector of travelers. Gabriel is God’s herald to proclaim the coming of Christ. Michael is the commander of the Lord’s armies. As such, Michael is depicted with sword in hand, fighting against Satan and his minions. But Michael does not fight by his own power. His power is that of Jesus Christ. His actions, his victories over Satan, all come as a result of Christ’s victory over Satan, sin, and death, which He won on the cross.
Angels are not free agents. They do not act on their own. They act according to Christ’s commands. Thus it is fruitless to pray to an angel. An angel cannot answer our prayers. It is however, quite proper to ask Christ to send His angels to minister to us, Michael to fight in our defense, Rafael to watch over us when traveling and so forth. And from Scripture we know that it is indeed God’s will that the angels watch over us. In our text we are reminded that even little children are watched by God’s angels. There is a twofold sense to this warning. First, God will protect them. But also that God’s angels will bear witness against those who would dare to harm a child. And what does it say about those who lead a child into sin? That it would be better for them that a great millstone be hung about their neck and that they be thrown into the sea then that lead a child into sin. In other words a person would be better off dead then leading others astray. Would that more people in our age understood this warning. Yet, this also is part of the ministry of angels - that they would work to keep us from sinning. They do not only protect us from physical harm.
Many people feel alone in the world. Many think that there is no one to help them. Yet, Christ by His death and resurrection has helped us. He has made us right with Him. He has made each a son and heir of God the father. And then He sends His angels, His ministering servants to protect us from both spiritual and physical harm. He sends His angels to be with us and bear witness to all that is done against us. And they are always with God’s children. We are never alone. Many will speak of a guardian angel. I don’t think that’s quite accurate from what we learn in Scripture. I would suggest that we are each protected by a legion of angels - a great and powerful host. They carry us through this life, as servants of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and bring us to live with Christ forever.