Genesis 28:10-17 Psalm 103 Revelation 12:7-12 John 1:47-51
Michaelmas is the traditional name for the feast of St Michael and All Angels which occurs on September 29th. Though the nature and existence of angels is a topic that barely features in contemporary theology, and figures even less in contemporary professions of belief, the world of angels is long established in the Christian religion, and has an enduring place within it. It is not just that Michaelmas has survived in modern calendars, or the fact that a surprisingly large number of churches have Michael and All Angels as their dedication. In almost every modern version of the Eucharistic liturgy the ancient profession is repeated. "Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with the whole company of heaven who forever sing this hymn -- Holy! Holy! Holy!"
But what ought we to think about angels and archangels? The advances of modern science have taught us just how little we know about the created cosmos. Human beings are one of the wonders of this creation – evolved animals with a spiritual, emotional, artistic and intellectual life that far surpasses any other animal. Yet, it would be the height of presumption to suppose that this puts us at the top of all created beings. God is a spirit. Why should there not be spiritual beings who are not animals?
Psalm 103, set for this festival, describes angels as "mighty ones" who minister to God and do His will. Even so, the Psalmist does not hesitate to instruct them -- "Bless the Lord" and he tells them to combine their praises with those of "all His works in all places of His dominion". This vision of a vast array of beings -- stretching from the simplest insects to celestial beings far surpassing us -- provides a context for human worship that is both humbling and inspiring. It is captured magnificently in verses written by the 17th century Anglican priest and poet, John Mason.
How shall I sing that Majesty
Which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
Sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands stand around
Thy throne, O God most high;
Ten thousand times ten thousand sound
Thy praise; but who am I?
Thy brightness unto them appears,
Whilst I Thy footsteps trace;
A sound of God comes to my ears,
But they behold Thy face.
They sing because Thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
For where heaven is but once begun
There alleluias be.
Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,
Inflame it with love’s fire;
Then shall I sing and bear a part
With that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
With all my fire and light;
Yet when Thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.
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