St. Michael & All Angels

FROM THE VERY REV. RAY SUTTON

"Michael Your Prince"

Collect for St. Michael and all Angels

O EVERLASTING God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that , as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The Scripture verse, “entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2) flashed before my mind one brisk fall morning in Philadelphia. I had just been called to be the new Dean of our oldest seminary, Reformed Episcopal Seminary. I had entered the west side of the city. A red light detained me. I was anxious to get on into the office. The light turned green. Just as I was about to put my foot on the gas, a young African American boy, out of nowhere, walked out in front of my car. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen him at all; I was frustrated that he had detained me that way.

A car honked behind me to get going. The little boy simply walked nonchalantly before me, preventing my acceleration through the red light. Then just as the little boy was about to be past my car so that I could go, suddenly out of my left eye I saw one of those giant gravel trucks barreling at full speed down the street in front of me. The driver was frantically trying to stop; apparently his breaks didn’t work. To my horror, he ran through the red light directly in front of me. If it hadn’t been for that young lad detaining me, I would have surely been broad sided and probably killed. I began to shake and realized I had escaped death; I quickly muttered, “Thank you Lord for saving me.” In the subsequent seconds as I regained my composure, it also came to me that the young man with whom I was so frustrated had actually saved my life. I wanted to get out and shout out a huge “thank you” to that little guy. I pulled my car over, got out and went up and down the streets around the intersection to try and find him. He was not to be found. Just as fast as he had appeared out of nowhere he was gone to nowhere. It’s like he disappeared. In fact, I believe he did vanish.

To this day I am firmly convinced that that small, African American boy was an angel in disguise, bless him. He was sent to save me from destruction. As the passage in Hebrews teaches, an angel unawares had visited me. Thank the Lord for the blessed, holy angel He sent to me that day.

What an angel did for me, however, is nothing new to the people of God. The Lord’s holy angels were created for and sent to humans to guard and watch over them. The important commentator on the Book of Common Prayer, Massey Shepherd, describes angels as, “attendants upon God’s court, ministers of His will, and succorers of God’s people” (The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, p. 251).

So powerfully and wonderfully have God’s archangels and angels looked over the affairs of humans, the Church established in the early centuries of her existence a special but unusual feast day, St. Michael and all Angels. “Its institution goes back to the fifth century when a basilica was dedicated to St. Michael on the Via Salaria, a little north of Rome – the first church in Italy named in honor of the archangel. Collects for this feast may be found in the Leonine Sacramentary” (Shepherd, TOABC, p. 251). The Eastern Church has two feast days devoted to angels. September 29 is for named angels. October 2 is devoted to the so-called, unnamed angels. In the Western tradition as represented in the Book of Common Prayer, one day is devoted to both the named and unnamed angels.

What strikes us first about this feast day is it is devoted in part to an archangel, Michael, whose name in Hebrew means, “Who is like God.” Significantly, Michael is a warrior angel who at the end of history fights against Satan and the angels who joined Beelzebub at the beginning of all times in rebelling against God in heaven. Isaiah tells us that Satan’s insurrection was driven by his obsession to be like, and even greater than God (Isaiah 14). So the one whose name is, “Who is like God,” meaning no one is like God, arises to defend the kingdom of heaven and defeat Satan whose wicked compulsion is to ascend above God and be God, what he can never become. St. John the apostle who is given to see the end of all things in the Book of Revelation, records in one short pericope the mighty victory of Michael over Satan and his evil spirits.

What also confronts us about the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels is that an archangel is called a saint. There are a couple of explanations. Perhaps the best is the simplest. The word saint means holy. Since angels and humans in heaven are referred to as holy, Michael is called, St. or Holy Michael. A second reason for calling Michael a saint is that he is referred to as a “Prince” of the people of God. When the Pre-Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ appears to Daniel while held captive in Babylon, Michael is described as, “Michael your prince” (Daniel 10:21; 12:1). Michael the Archangel is closely associated with God’s people as their prince and in some sense their representative, as is the nature of being a prince over people. In this regard, one can perhaps see why he would be called a saint like the other humans distinguished for their holiness.

On this special feast day, we are called in the propers to recognize the special role that angels play in protecting us. The Epistle is from Revelation 12:7. The passage describes the war in heaven that took place when Michael defeated Satan. The Gospel references angels as children’s protectors (Matthew 18:10). For this reason, Christian artists have sometimes portrayed angels as cherubs. In heaven and on earth, St. Michael and all Angels protect and fight for us.
 Therefore, the collect from the Sarum Rite (11th Century) as found in the 1662/1928 Book of Common Prayer and bound together in the REC prayer book, says, “O Everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succor and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 

As that great hymn about angels interprets the aforementioned prayer and passages, the first stanza begins, “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones, raise the glad strain, Allelulia! Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” Then the last stanza calls us to thank God for giving us His blessed angels in the words, “O friends, in gladness let us sing, supernal anthems echoing, Alleluia, Alleluia! To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit Three in One, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen.”

So let us express our thanksgiving to our Triune God for St. Michael and all Angels on their special feast day. For as one author has put it paraphrasing the victory of God through St. Michael in Revelation 12:8, “The Devil can do his worst but he’s not strong enough to conquer heaven’s forces” (C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil).  Thanks be to God!

+RRS