Monday, 30 September 2013

Angels... really?

 Today we celebrate the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. It is a topic that tends to divide people into extremes.  People tend to be obsessed with angels, so they read books about angels and try to communicate with them. If you walk through the New Age section in the bookstore you will find numerous books on angels and tarot cards based on angels. On the other extreme, people place angels into the same category as unicorns, faeries, and leprechauns. To them the idea of angels being real is an offence to rationality and science.
          As we heard from our readings angels are present throughout the Bible, They also appear in the experiences of the saints throughout history. If they are so present in the Bible and throughout the history of the church it is a serious matter to deny their existence. But, we also want to use our minds as we approach the topic of angels and not allow our imagination to fill the void.
          First, I think it is important to just acknowledge that there is an invisible side to our universe. There is a part of reality that we are blind to. Music is passing around us all the time in the form of radio waves. We are completely unaware of this music that is around us all the time unless we have a radio that is able to detect the radio waves and transform them into something we can hear.

There are many other parts of reality that we are blind to. We cannot see ultraviolet or infrared light. There are various kinds of “waves” and radiation passing around us every moment of every day. Everywhere that electricity is flowing there are invisible magnetic fields. We are told by physicists that there are elementary particles like Nutrinos that travel close to the speed of light and pass through us all the time. There is an invisible reality all around us that we are blind to.

          If we think about the depth of the reality we live in, it really isn’t that hard for those with faith to imagine other parts of that reality that we are not able to observe. The Nicene Creed says that God is the maker of all things, visible and invisible. We can detect a certain portion of the unseen universe. With machines we can pick up radio waves, and we can detect infrared and ultraviolet light. Through our technology we have been able to peer into the invisible side of our universe, but what if we are just scraping the surface of the invisible universe? … What aren’t we seeing because our machines just can’t detect it? … The Bible tells us that there are invisible beings that are a part of the invisible universe.  What if the invisible universe includes entities with consciousness like angels? It is not impossible to imagine this given how much we don’t actually perceive about our universe.     
There are occasions when the grace is given to be able to peer into this invisible universe. In Numbers 22 we read about an angel blocking the path of Balaam who was riding his donkey to a place where he could curse the Hebrew people. An invisible angel blocks the road, but the donkey is able to see the angel and turns off the road. Eventually God opens Balaam’s eyes too and he sees the angel blocking the road.
There was another incident with the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 6, where the prophet’s assistant is disturbed when he woke up and saw an army surrounding their camp. “His servant said, ‘Alas, master! What shall we do?’ He replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17).
We are told that Jacob saw Angels ascending and descending to and from heaven in Gen 28. Jesus says Nathaniel will see a similar vision of angels descending and ascending in the first chapter of John.  
We may not be able to detect this reality with our technology, but there have been countless saints who have dedicated themselves to spiritual training who have come to experience this heavenly reality. They have applied the methods of spirituality and after much dedication and hard work have been graced to experience the reality the Bible tells us about and which other saints have described.  Perhaps it is not unreasonable to trust these spiritual explorers who have experienced these realities.   
          I hope that by considering the invisible side to our universe that we have made belief in angels a little more possible, so now it may be worth considering what angels are. The word “angel” means “messenger”. This is the primary purpose of angels. They deliver messages from God. Angels are not believed to naturally have a material form, though they can take on human form, which is an experience described throughout the Bible. They have free will and are capable of disobeying God, just as humans can. So we are told that there are angels that serve God and angels that rebel against God (often called demons). This is the dragon and his angels described in Revelation chapter 12. Angel committed to God seem to also have a guarding and protecting function as well. Teaching his disciples about Children Jesus says, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matt 18:10). This seems to imply that angels look out for children, which is where the idea of guardian angels comes from. Angels seem to have responsibilities to look out for nations, and elements of nature, and even churches.  They are servants of God and they offer Him eternal praise and worship. As servants of God they want to draw people to God through Christ. They are not interested in having the attention of humanity. They certainly don’t want humanity to be obsessed with them to the point Christ is obscured from their minds.
If we were given the grace to see this church in all its depth of reality, I wonder what we would see. What if we could see that invisible side of reality? We would see all the forces, fields, and waves that are passing and fluxing around us. We would see minute particles shooting through our bodies moving at incredible speeds. We might see heavenly beings joining us in worship- (or perhaps we are joining them in worship). We might see angels, the messengers of God, ministering to those of us that are struggling.  We would see them rejoicing when we confess and turn from destructive ways of thinking and acting (Luke 15:10). We would see them lifting up our prayers before God. We would see them strengthening us, just as they strengthened Jesus during his ministry on earth before his death and resurrection (Matt 4:11; Luke 22:43). We would also see them serving Jesus in our midst. 
          If we had the grace to see it, then we would be witness to the Son of God, who promised that he would never leave us, and who promised that wherever two or three of us are gathered that he is here with us. We would see him, not in a book, and not in our imagination, but in the depth of reality. We would see the Son of God before us- dazzling- and if we saw it we wouldn’t have the words to describe it. We would start talking about whiteness and light, and bleach, and clouds, and glory, and voices. And people would be wondering if they can trust what we are saying. Perhaps the universe is more populated than many of us believe. Perhaps God, in his mercy, has provided us with more help than we often admit.

Thank God for the angelic host that dwells in the invisible side of reality, who are so attentive to us, and who are pleased to go about their service invisible, unrecognized, and unthanked.  Amen.     

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