There was a television series in the 90s called Touched by an Angel. Some of you will know it. The show was about Monica, an angel who appeared on earth as a human. She’d offer guidance to people in a time of crisis. Monica was supervised by an archangel of sorts, Tess, who was deliciously sarcastic and a kind of surrogate mother to Monica. Then there was the angel of death, who appeared only periodically; it seemed the producers didn’t want him on too much because it was better for ratings when the episodes had so-called “happy endings.”
The show lasted 9 seasons, if you can believe it. I know - I watched every season!
Now here’s an interesting tidbit: when producer Martha Williamson was approached to do the series, she initially turned it down, stating that “she was a Christian and could only do a show that depicted angels in a way that was true to her view of angels and that was respectful towards God.” The plot for the show, she felt, portrayed angels as “recycled dead people with power over life and death.”
Williamson later changed her mind and agreed to do it. I’ve always wondered what it was that changed her mind. The show was cheesy, the theology questionable, the depiction of angels sketchy at best. But the premise of the show seemed to tap into a kind of universal human desire: the desire to intercede on behalf of others who are in pain, and a desire to have someone else intercede on our behalf when we are in pain. When facing a life-altering decision, there’s some comfort in imagining that there could be angels who walk among us.
I wonder if any of this resonates with you? On a feast day like today, when we celebrate St Michael and all angels, I wonder what questions you carry in your heart? Maybe you’re asking, “What do angels look like?” Maybe you’re wondering, “Will people think I’m weird if I say I’ve been visited by an angel?” Maybe you’re asking, “What’s the point of angels? Do they even exist?”
The Bible has many stories about angels. A memorable few include: the angels that appear to Jacob in a dream, transcending heaven and earth by way of a ladder; there is the angel Gabriel who appears to Mary with the news that she will conceive and bear a son. There are the angels that attend to Jesus in the desert after he has been tempted by the devil; the angels that Jesus tells Nathanael about who will ascend and descend upon the Son of Man. Then there’s Michael and his angels in the book of Revelation, the story behind our feast today. Here the angels are involved in this cosmic battle between the realm of God’s justice and mercy and this dragon, who represents all the evil powers that work against God. And when the battle between these two forces is over, the victory belongs paradoxically to this little Lamb: the message being that in God’s universe, when it’s down to the dragon and the lamb, it is humility and sacrificial love that resolve conflict, humility and sacrificial love that are the markers of the angels who bring about healing in our world.
So will people think you’re weird if you tell them you’ve been visited by angels?
I don’t know. Maybe. I do think it’s possible to experience the ministry of angels in a time of conflict or in a time of need. I do think that this ministry happens through the hands and feet of people. It is both totally other-worldly and something really quite ordinary. Perhaps that’s because bringing about God’s reign with humility and sacrificial love, this is something I witness everyday in the life of the Church, both the Church at large and the life of this local Cathedral church.
I witnessed this yesterday as together with clergy and lay delegates, the candidates who had allowed their names to stand for bishop of the diocese of British Columbia went through an eight-hour election. Seven ballots before Anna Greenwood-Lee received a majority and an election occurred. Humility and sacrificial love is the work of angels, and the work of a bishop, to be sure.
The work of angels, this is what I witnessed this week in our Cathedral community as a beloved member died. I believe that scores of angels descended upon her as lay ministers of this church, from their homes, held their dying friend in their hearts and in their hands, ministering to her from afar through prayer and distance healing touch. I believe that this beloved child of God, as she faced the end of her life, that she was visited by angels through the kindness of her family and the nurses who cared for her. When we are in need, there are a multitude of angels who, as our collect says this morning, “defend us here on earth” even, perhaps especially, at the hour of our death.
Angels are those who commit themselves to the work of interceding, those who answer God’s call to become instruments of healing and transformation in the world, those who sign on to the intercessory work that all who follow Jesus are called to discern. Angels teach us to trust that God’s reign of justice and mercy is being made known on earth even when we don’t fully believe that it is. Angels call us to the ministry of intercession, to respond when God calls us to enact grace in the world because grace is what has been made known so profoundly to us in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Jesus, who is God’s Son, Jesus the Christ, Jesus who is God’s Beloved.
So my invitation to you this morning is this: how will you pray this week? How will you join in the ministry of St Michael and all angels? Perhaps you will take some time each day to give thanks to God and to pray for our communities, to remember the candidates for our own episcopal election this coming Saturday. Maybe you’ll take an hour later today to join the Cathedral’s Evensong or service of Compline, to be still before the Lord as members of the choir sing praises to God and with their voices minister amongst us like angels. And if you’re struggling this week to find the words or the space in your schedule to pray, I encourage you to send a prayer request to the Cathedral’s healing prayer team, who offer prayers every week on our behalf.
How will you pray this week? I promise you this - if you answer the call to prayer you will find yourself in the company of angels.