St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Michaelmas 2019 : Fr Tony Hogg

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 Ancient civilizations visualized the world as being populated by an array of 
powerful yet unseen beings-beings working for good and equally for evil. The
 Israelites of OT times also shared this belief, but recognized these unseen 
beings as messengers of God, The Eternal One. Angels are not mentioned as 
part of creation but appear in scripture soon after humans first appear on 
earth. Remember when Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise and an angel 
is positioned at the gates, flaming sword in hand, banning their return.
By the time we arrive at the last pages of scripture, we have had many 
encounters with angels- in the OT and in the New, so much so that Scripture 
would not have been the same without them. In the Book of Revelation, St John 
and his escort, stroll through by the river of life and take in the beauty and 
grandeur of the holy city, and the angel is quite alarmed when John falls down 
and tries to worship him. The angel reminds him that they are both fellow 
servants of God.
We see them named according to their individual functions; Michael, “the one
 who is like God”. Michael the warrior.
Gabriel “the bringer of news and the announcer of the end of time.”
Raphael “the healer”. But these because of their important work are given the 
title of Archangel.
So it is that Gabriel comes to announce God’s will as with Mary: angels sing 
anthems as for the shepherds; they warn of impending trouble for Mary and 
Joseph, so they flee to Egypt. They are there to reprimand, guide, to rescue, 
 to announce the good news of the hope of the resurrection. They are there to 
open the prison doors for Peter.
In heaven we see battle and struggle as the archangels gather their forces and 
war breaks out. Michael and Satan ride into battle and Michael triumphs, 
banishing Satan, “that old serpent”, hurtling him down as a falling star from 
the depths of heaven to the depths of hell, but ever since, Satan has won battle 
after battle among human beings who are foolish enough to think he has been 
defeated and is not therefore present in our lives. He still has power because 
he is still an archangel albeit a fallen one.
One of the sculptures which has stayed with me ever since I saw many years 
ago is the great bronze on the wall of the new Coventry Cathedral, depicting 
Michael standing above a defeated Satan- or that is how most people see it. 
 But by looking more closely it can be seen that Michael’s spear has not yet 
entered Satan’s body- that Satan is not lying dead, but resting on one elbow 
still with the strength enough to make him rise. Epstein’s statue reminds us if 
we look closely enough that the struggle between good and evil still goes on 
and will go on and on until the end of time.
In a similar way many wall paintings and icons, as indeed ours does here, 
depict Michael dressed in armour. This important image is in stark contrast 
with the Victorian pictorial image of pretty little girls with wings holding
 hands with a small child and leading them safely across the road or watching 
and smiling over them as they kneel and say their prayers. As guardian angels 
they are totally useless against “the evil one seeking 
whom he may devour.” That picture trivializes the work of our Patrons they 
do: bringers of Good news, the warriors against evil and the messengers of 
God. For us in this parish, for us in our homes, they are the unseen but ever 
present power from God in our lives, experienced but not always recognized, 
by us mere mortals. That is why today we thank God “with heart and hand 
and voices” ( and what mighty voices they are!) to wish each other a blessed
St Michael’s Day for another year of prayer, protection and guidance, so that
 with that confidence we can go forward worshipping “The Lord in the beauty 
of holiness.”


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