Michaelmas Meditation

“There was war in heaven”

Somehow angels are very much with us. They are very much a part of the biblical and spiritual landscape of the great religions of the world. They are found in the Jewish Scriptures, in the Christian New Testament, and in the Koran. They are present from creation to redemption, as it were. There is even in our contemporary secular culture a yearning for a spiritual company and a sense that we are somehow more than cosmic orphans cast adrift in wholly material universe.

But perhaps you still protest and reasonably so. “Are not angels simply the product of our imaginations, the creatures of our minds, as it were?” Creatures of the mind? Better to say creatures who are mind, wholly mind. The angels are pure intellectual beings of immaterial substance. They are the ordered and distinct thoughts of God in creation, the moving principles of his goodness and truth, the invisible reasons for the visible things of the world. And since the intellect transcends the sense, angels cannot be seen except by the mind in thought. The angels are creatures who are mind that only minds can think. Angels belong at the very least to an intellectual tradition that connects with Plato’s Forms and Aristotle’s Spheres; in short, to an intellectual understanding of the universe.

Angels, let us allow, are thinkable, but what does it mean to think with them? After all, there are endless numbers of things which are “able to be thought”. The ancient Collect for Michaelmas speaks of God as having “ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order”. The services of angels are instituted of God and joined with the services of men in a wonderful order. Somehow thinking God means thinking with the angels who are God’s thoughts in creation. We are part of a spiritual community that is far larger than we realize.

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Jerome, Doctor and Priest

The collect for today, the Feast of St. Jerome (c. 342-420), Priest, Monk, Translator of the Scriptures, Doctor of the Church (source):

O Lord, thou God of truth, whose Word is a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path: We give thee thanks for thy servant Jerome, and those who, following in his steps, have labored to render the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people; and we beseech thee that thy Holy Spirit may overshadow us as we read the written Word, and that Christ, the living Word, may transform us according to thy righteous will; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The Epistle: 2 Timothy 3:14-17
The Gospel: St. Luke 24:44-48

Read more about St. Jerome here.

Bartolomeo della Gatta, St. Jerome in the Desert

Artwork: Bartolomeo della Gatta, St. Jerome in the Desert, c. 1480. Fresco, Museo del Duomo, Arezzo.

Saint Michael and All Angels

The collect for today, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

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 alway do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lesson: Revelation 12:7-11
The Gospel: St. Matthew 18:1-10

Read more about Saint Michael here.

D'Amato, St. Michael defeats Satan

Artwork: Giovanni Angelo D’Amato, Saint Michael the Archangel Defeats Satan, 1583. Oil on wood, Duomo, Ravello. Photograph taken by admin, 3 June 2010.

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, Evening Prayer

“Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods
or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

We know them better, perhaps, by their Hebrew names from the canticle, the Benedicite, Omnia Opera, taken from the Apocryphal book, the Song of the Three Young Men, regarded as an addition to the Book of Daniel between verses 23 and 24 of this evening’s first lesson from the 3rd chapter of the Book of Daniel. The canticle, appointed for use at Morning Prayer, speaks of Ananias, Azarias, and Misael. Here they are known by their Persian or pagan names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, colourful and memorable names, to be sure.

And a colourful, memorable and powerful story. But then, that is a feature of the Book of Daniel, a book comprising six stories and four dream visions, a book which has bequeathed a number of memorable commonplaces which are, perhaps still with us even in our biblically illiterate era. We still speak of “feet of  clay”, of “the writing on the wall”, of being “in the Lion’s den”, and, for the historically minded, perhaps, “the king’s matter” – a reference from the Book of Daniel delicately applied to Henry the VIII with respect to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Written during the Hellenizing reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, following upon the conquests of Alexander the Great, the stories are set in an earlier period of persecution and conquest when Israel was in captivity in Babylon.

They are stories of courage and conviction, stories which reveal the primacy of faith and the worship of God in his majesty and truth over and against the tyranny and overreach of worldly powers and potentates. Here Daniel’s companions are put to the test about their primary allegiance: to God or to the image of the King Nebuchadnezzar who ordered that at “the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music” everyone was to fall down and worship the golden image? Failure to comply meant being cast into “a burning fiery furnace”. Charmingly and colourfully told, with the fourfold repetition of the cacophonous command, for instance, it concentrates an all important question of conscience. What do you really value? Or to put in the language of Matthew from tonight’s second lesson, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What do you treasure? Which is a way of asking what do we really worship? God or ourselves in our practical, hedonistic and economic pursuits?

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Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, Morning Prayer

“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful”

These words of Joel the Prophet sound a particularly fitting and providential note on this Sunday which is designated in the Anglican Church of Canada and beyond as “Back-to-Church Sunday.” What Joel’s words remind us is that back to Church really means back to God. “Return to the Lord, your God.”

In so many ways, this is the problem that the Churches confront in our contemporary culture. While God may or may not be a believable concept, the Church certainly is not. Beset by scandals and decay, despair and demographical decline, there seems nothing positive and attractive about the institutional church, especially in the face of the feel-good culture of the contemporary smorgasbord of “spiritualities.” And yet the words of Joel, within the context of our liturgy as a whole, speak profoundly to the discontents and fears of our increasingly anxious and fretful world. All our vaunted certainties have crumbled into the dust of uncertainty.

The progressivist myth that things are always getting better and better is simply not true and no longer credible, however much we try to cling to it. It is, perhaps, in that context that Joel’s words here have a kind of resonance for us and signal the possibilities of a new beginning.

For that is what the Prophets of Israel are always about. Their words, which sometimes seem so harsh and uncompromising, are the strong wake-up call that we desperately need to hear, now and always. They recall us to the most primary relationship in our lives: God, without whom there is nothing and we are nothing. In a way, we know this and in a way, we don’t. What gets in the way?

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