We, Lutherans, often do not celebrate the feast days unless it happens to land on a Sunday, which means approximately once every seven years if a leap year does not interfere. But, today is Saint Michael and All Angels!
Saint Michael and All Angels offers the opportunity to learn about the angels according to Scripture and tradition.
But, SPOILER ALERT:
You might discover that our depictions, such as Touched by an Angel, art, and your figurines at home may not be accurate.
As Lutherans, we tend to not focus on the angels although we do acknowledge them in our liturgy, notably in Holy Communion, when we gather with the heavenly hosts (angels), the faithful departed, and the faithful in congregations throughout the world to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy”.
So, what or who are the angels?
According to Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 7-8),
Divine beings, heavenly servants of God, know as purveyors of godly messages, such as recipes for light and delicious food cake and impossibly fine pasta, or the somewhat rougher tradition of motorcycle fellowship.
Neither fish nor fowl, an angel is a messenger who bears a tiding from God. In art angels are most often depicted with wings upon their back – sometimes two, sometimes six – but it should be noted that in the Bible, angels are most often do not have wings and seem to appear much like people. There is one biblical passage that describes a type of angel that has six wings – Isaiah 6. If you’re wondering whether a six-winged angel flies faster than the other varieties, the answer is no, as two wings are used for flying and the other four to cover eyes and ensure decency (Isaiah 6:2). (Now, whether a laden or unladen angel makes better time remains a separate matter.)
The angel has long been one of the most compelling biblical creatures, inspiring artwork throughout the centuries, lines of collectible figurines, and the occasional melodrama. Despite the fascination, or perhaps because of it, there are many misconceptions about angels. The angel is not, primarily, one’s “wingman,” some sort of divine insurance policy or airborne, side-winding muscle-for-hire (although the Bible does attest to God sending angels to watch over God’s chosen people or person: see Genesis 24: 7, 20; Psalm 91:11). Neither is an angel the next stage in human evolution, what good little boys and girls morph into when they die. Every time you hear a bell ring, it means … it’s lunchtime, or break’s over, or Pavlov’s messing with his dog again, not that an angel gets his wings. Angels are creatures made by God, much like human beings, only of a slightly different order. Maybe an equation would be helpful at this point: as chimpanzees are to people, people are to angels – as far as the human creature is above the lovable chimp, so are angels that much higher than humans.
First and foremost, angels are messengers, beings who have been entrusted with the task of delivering God’s word. With their winged harking (or is it harping?), angels herald important events, give instruction, or issue warning. The messages angels deliver vary: Hagar is promised well-being for her son; Abraham and Sarah are promised a son; Joseph is convinced to stick with Mary; and of course Jesus’ birth and resurrection were declared first by angels. In short, angels communicate God’s will to their fellow creatures, and in this regard Shakespeare is right when he says human beings are like angels (Hamlet, act 2, scene 2), for this is the point at which normal, everyday dopes like us are at our most angelic – when we share the message of Jesus with our fellow creatures.
- How often do we envision angels are our little guardians?
Those guardian angels who follow our cars and we want to be sure not to drive faster than they can fly.
- How often do we envision the faithful departed as “gaining their angel wings”?
These ‘visions’ are misconceptions.
Angels and humans are different species, like cats and dogs.
Angels may appear human (to deliver a message), but will never be human.
Humans will never be angels.
The Courts (or Choirs) of Angels
There are nine ‘courts’, or types, of angels.
Since we are speaking about angels as a species, the courts would be different breeds with their own responsibilities.
The seraphim, or ‘fiery one’, is the highest court of angels with the task of attending to and guarding the throne of God. These are the angels that Isaiah describes has having six wings: two to fly, two to cover their face, and two to cover their feet.
The cherubim is the fat, little babies who fly around shooting people with arrows to force them to fall in love with one another… right?
The cherubim is actually the second highest court of angels who hold intimate knowledge of God and reside in God’s glory. These angels are described to be human-like in appearance with two sets of wings.
The thrones are not well-known but are angels that embody pure humility, peace, and submission… It sounds a bit ‘perfect’, doesn’t it?
The dominions, who again are not well-known, are the angels of leadership.
These angels are responsible for communicating God’s will and commands to the other courts of angels by regulating their duties.
The virtues, who yet again are not well-known, are the angels within nature who control and govern the earthly elements. The virtues are described as the “shiny ones”, which may provide for the visions of angelic ‘glow’.
The powers, who yet again are not well-known, are the warrior angels primarily responsible for engaging in the cosmic battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
The principalities, who yet again are not-well known, are those angels who are hostile towards God and humans. These are those who may have rebelled against God and are referred to as “demons”, because angels and demons are indeed the same species simply involved on opposing sides of the cosmic battle.
The “angels” are the generic, well-known messengers, who interact most intimately with the physical world, including humans, on behalf of God and the other courts of angels.
If there are nine courts of angels, who have I ‘skipped’?
The arch-angels are the angelic princes, chiefs, or commanders who lead the angels.
Do you know the number of arch-angels?
It is a trick question, because there is no agreed upon number.
The number, depending on source and tradition, ranges from about 3 to 13.
However, there are five widely accepted arch-angels although one is often not discussed as such….
Michael is the most well-known and the primary name of our feast. Why?
Michael is the supreme, number one angel with authority over ALL the angels.
In fact, Michael means “the one who is like God”, which you can often discover written across his shield in Christian art.
Michael is the ultimate Warrior Angel, who was tasked with managing the infamous rebellion and removing Lucifer from heaven.
(This is referenced in our Gospel and in John’s Revelation.)
Gabriel is your supreme, ultimate messenger.
If you need a message to be signed, sealed, and delivered… Gabriel is your angel.
Gabriel is primarily focused upon in Christianity at Advent and Christmas, because Gabriel was the angel would came and asked Mary to bear God Incarnate.
Gabriel, according to Islamic tradition, was the angel who dictated the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.
Raphael is widely accepted as an arch-angel, although his narrative is grounded in texts not included in the ‘common’ Bible. However, Raphael is recognized as the supreme, ultimate healer.
If you have seen depictions of a boy, a dog, and an angel walking together, it is most often a depiction of Raphael with Tobias (Book of Tobit). It is an interesting story.
Uriel is often accepted as an arch-angel, who is known for knowledge and wisdom.
Honestly, it seems that Uriel may have been tasked with replacing Lucifer.
Lucifer, also known as the Morning Star, the Light-Bearer, and later Satan or the Devil, is an arch-angel whom we struggle to acknowledge as such.
Lucifer led a rebellion in heaven.
Lucifer was cast down from heaven.
Lucifer rules over the rebellious angels, also known as ‘demons’.
According to the narrative, Lucifer was not pleased with God’s affection and love of his little creatures on earth called ‘humans’. Then, God told Lucifer and all the courts of angels to bow down, guard, protect, and guide us.
Lucifer asked ‘you want me to bow down to THAT?’.
As the definition above states, it would be as if I told you to bow down to a monkey.
How many of you would say, ‘you want me to bow down to THAT?’.
You would probably have some questions, wouldn’t you?
Thus, Lucifer was, is, and will forever remain an arch-angel (breed) but he is on the opposing side of the cosmic battle.
In summary, the angels are a species of messengers who also are warriors engaged in a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil fought here upon the earth and among the humans.
What can we, humans, do about this cosmic battle?
I offer to you a portion of The Prayer of Saint Michael as written by Pope Leo XIII:
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against
the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
by the Power of God –
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.
“The Prayer of Saint Michael” is for protection against all evil, negative spirits who seek to cause harm and suffering. It is utilized in house blessings, house cleansings, and in exorcism (although rare, the rite of exorcism does continue to be performed).
We, Lutheran, do not often ‘invoke’ angels (and definitely not the Saints), but I do invite you to ponder the words of the “Prayer of Saint Michael”, as well as the angels in Scripture and tradition… may this offer you an excuse to explore them more deeply.
But, I want to offer you an intriguing puzzle….
Theologians throughout history have argued that humans are ‘above’ the angels because humans have free-will while the angels do not…
but, if angels do not have free-will, how can a group ‘rebel’ against God?