We have not in recent years paid much attention at Redeemer to the church year calendar much beyond Sundays. If you look at pages 54-61 in the front portion of ELW, you will see listed the extended church year calendar of “Lesser Festivals and Commemorations”—“feast days,” some still call them. It gets a little unwieldy to try to observe them all, even if they fall on a Sundays, so we mostly don’t.
September 29 is the Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels. On that day, the church throughout the world remembers the central role that angels not only have played but continue to play in the unfolding of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Did you know that the two carved angel heads on either side of the top of the stairs into our chancel are Gabriel and Michael, watching over and guarding us continually? Have you noticed that each week in communion we sing with the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, joining their unending hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy….”?
Much ink has been spilled speculatively about these heavenly beings who are messengers of and warriors for God and us against the forces of evil. This space, and likely your time today, don’t permit a thorough exposition or definition of angels, so allow me simply to share an experience that involved the perception of an angel among us:
In 1988 a woman from our parish in Startown, NC was having surgery in Atlanta. Wendy was doing her student teaching, and the surgery was on a Tuesday, my day off back then, that I usually spent with our son Matthew, just shy of his second birthday. So I strapped him in the car seat and took him with me to Atlanta. We sang and talked and talked and sang, made our visit, and then headed home.
By the time we reached our exit from I-85 onto Hwy 18 somewhere near Shelby on the way home, the night was not only dark but thick with fog. Though I was only going 10 miles per hour or so, I went straight where the exit curved, and we went over the edge and down an embankment, airborne for a second or two, and landed quite bumpily on all four wheels in a field about 8 feet below the exit ramp.
I was okay…but Matthew! I flipped on the interior light and turned to look at him, and he looked fine, but he was locked in a mesmerized gaze on the empty seat beside him. “Are you okay, honey?” I apologized. But he wouldn’t look at me, so I followed his gaze…nothing there. Then, without looking away, Matthew said, “Daddy, look at the angel!” My first thought was that he had somehow hit his head. But he persisted and would not look away from whatever he perceived that he saw. He wasn’t frightened. He was smiling, and he seemed quite pleased by this perceived visitor.
I jumped out and rushed around in the mud to his door and unstrapped him and hugged him tightly, grateful that we were okay and yet shaking at the prospect of what might have been. As I held him, he kept trying to get back into the car, until finally he looked at me, obviously quite disappointed, and said, “Aw, where did the angel go?” “There was an angel in our car?” I asked. “Yes, where did it go?” he persisted. I kept asking, “What did it look like?” His answer…”an angel.” The rest of the way home, he asked about every 10 minutes, “Where did the angel go?” And the next morning when I went to put him in his carseat to go to daycare, he asked one last time, “Where did the angel go?”
I have never “seen” an angel, but I find it immensely comforting to believe in their existence not only once upon a biblical time but right here, right now, among us. Part of what we profess in the Nicene Creed is that we believe in all things, seen and unseen. Our baptismal liturgy urges us to renounce the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises. And I believe there are forces of good--angels guarding, protecting, leading, guiding, watching over us as well. For whatever reason, our toddler son perceived and believed it to be so.
Prayer (excerpt from Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer): “We ask that you would protect us today from sin and all evil, so that our life and actions may please you. Into your hands we commend ourselves: our bodies, our souls, and all that is ours. Let your holy angels be with us, so that the wicked foe may have no power over us.” Amen.