Sermon for Michaelmas Sunday

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb”

We are in the company of angels, no more blessed company to be with in these disturbing times and yet, angels? What are we, pseudo-enlightened moderns such as we are, to make of angels? Cutsy decorations for Christmas trees? Chubby cherubs with rosy cheeks? The more refined and aesthetically pleasing Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque angels? How do we think about angels?

The simple point is that you can only think them. You can’t see them. The visual imaginary, the way in which angels are depicted in art, is only as useful as it contributes to our intellectual and spiritual understanding of the angels. As such The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels yesterday – today is Michaelmas Sunday, we might say – is a strong reminder to us that there is more to reality than the merely physical, a strong reminder that the most important things in our lives are things that you cannot see. At the same time today’s service reminds us ever so strongly that the things you cannot see are made known through the things you can see. Such are the sacraments.

Blythe’s baptism this morning is a wonderful reminder of that spiritual truth. Through the water of death, the water of life, the water of the washing away of original sin and all sin, she is reborn and made “a member of Christ, the child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven” (BCP, Catechism, p. 544). Such is baptism. It is all grace perfecting nature and as such requires the renunciation of all that stands between us and God; in short, “the world, the flesh and the devil”as the Collect for Trinity XVIII puts it (BCP, p. 247). But only because “the devil and all his works,” what Michaelmas alludes to as “the great dragon”, “that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world,” nicely gathering up a variety of biblical images for all that opposes the absolute truth and goodness of God, has been “overcome by the blood of the Lamb,” by the sacrifice of Christ. How can this be? we might ask, in the manner of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night in the baptismal Gospel this morning. “How can a person be born again when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Note the literalism of such questions, as if the empirical and the physical were literally all there is.

Michaelmas is a splendid reminder to us of the nature and the reality of the spiritual without which we have no way to think anything. The greatest and most important things in our lives are the things we cannot see, only think and feel, the things of intellect and spirit. You cannot see love. You cannot literally see a number, only the representations of number; you can only think them for they are mental realities. You cannot see a quark or a neutrino or any of the many other features of quantum physics. You cannot see words which are thoughts before they are spoken or written, only then can you see or hear them physically as it were. Think of the magic and wonder of reading. Black marks on a white background that somehow entrance and engage our minds with the thoughts and ideas they represent. There is a constant dialectic between what is seen and unseen.

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Week at a Glance, 1 – 7 October

Monday, October 1st
6:30-7:30pm Sparks – Parish Hall

Tuesday, October 2nd
6:00pm ‘Prayers & Praises’ – Haliburton Place
6:30-8:00pm Girl Guides – Parish Hall

Wednesday, October 3rd
6:30-8:00pm Brownies – Parish Hall

Thursday, October 4th
3:15pm Service – Windsor Elms

Friday, October 5th
6:00-7:30pm Pathfinders & Rangers – Parish Hall

Saturday, October 6th
9:00-11:00am Men’s Club Decorating Church

Sunday, October 7th, Harvest Thanksgiving / Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
8:00am Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Baptism & Communion

Upcoming Event:

Tuesday, October 16th
7:00pm Christ Church Book Club – Coronation Room: The Temptation of Forgiveness, by Donna Leon, and Forgiveness: A Gift from My Grandparents, by Mark Sakamoto

The Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity

The collect for today, the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Salvator MundiLORD, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:4-8
The Gospel: St. Mark 12:28-37

Artwork: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Salvator Mundi, 1679. Marble, San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, Rome. (This was Bernini’s last work.)

Saint Michael and All Angels

The collect for today, the Feast of Saint 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

Gustave Moreau, Saint Michael Vanquishing SatanThe name Michael is a variation of Micah, and means in Hebrew “Who is like God?”

The archangel Michael first appears in the Book of Daniel, where he is described as “one of the chief princes” and as the special protector of Israel. In the New Testament epistle of Jude (v. 9), Michael, in a dispute with the devil over the body of Moses, says, “The Lord rebuke you“. Michael appears also in Revelation (12:7-9) as the leader of the angels in the great battle in Heaven that ended with Satan and the hosts of evil being thrown down to earth. There are many other references to the archangel Michael in Jewish and Christian traditions.

Following these scriptural passages, Christian tradition has given St. Michael four duties: (1) To continue to wage battle against Satan and the other fallen angels; (2) to save the souls of the faithful from the power of Satan especially at the hour of death; (3) to protect the People of God, both the Jews of the Old Covenant and the Christians of the New Covenant; and (4) finally to lead the souls of the departed from this life and present them to our Lord for judgment. For these reasons, Christian iconography depicts St. Michael as a knight-warrior, wearing battle armor, and wielding a sword or spear, while standing triumphantly on a serpent or other representation of Satan. Sometimes he is depicted holding the scales of justice or the Book of Life, both symbols of the last judgment.

Very early in church history, St. Michael became associated with the care of the sick. The cult of Michael developed first in Eastern Christendom, where healing waters and hot springs at many locations in Greece and Asia Minor were dedicated to him. Michael is supposed to have appeared three times on Monte Gargano, southern Italy, in the 5th century. The local townspeople believed that Michael’s intercession gave them victory in battle over their enemies. These apparitions restored his biblical role as a strong protector of God’s people, and were also the basis for spreading his cult in the West.

The Feast of St. Michael & All Angels is also known as Michaelmas. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates today as the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels.

Artwork: Gustave Moreau, Saint Michael Vanquishing Satan, c. 1882. Watercolor and gouache, Private collection.

KES Chapel Reflection, Week of 26 September

Dust from the Ground and War in Heaven

You are dirt! And so am I. It is not meant to be an insult! Instead it complements the idea of the dignity of our humanity through the necessary corrective of humility. We are “of dust from the ground,” the dust into which God has breathed the breath of life and “so ‘adam’ became a living being.” From the dignity of our humanity to the dust of the ground, such is the shift in perspective in what are clearly two distinct creation stories set side by side in Genesis.

The challenge is to appreciate and evaluate each of them, first, in their own integrity and, only secondly, to consider in what ways they might complement and correct each other. Genesis 2 offers a very different and much more mythological account which focuses primarily on the nature and place of our humanity as distinct from the cosmic perspective of creation as an orderly and intellectual affair in Genesis 1. Genesis 2 is undeniably anthropomorphic in its descriptions of the Lord God forming adam out of the dust from the ground much like a potter shapes his clay. Yet the passage complements the idea of our being made in the image of God at the same time as it offers a kind of corrective.

There is always the danger of over-emphasizing and misconstruing exactly what our dignity really means, the problem of getting too ‘puffed-up’ about ourselves and losing sight of the real nature of our connection to everything else in the created order. We are formed of dust from the ground. The very word for man here, meaning humankind is adam which is not yet a proper name. It is etymologically connected to the word for ground, adamah.

Just as Genesis 1 counters the idea of the divinization of our humanity emphasizing that our dignity is God-given rather than man-made, so too, Genesis 2 connects us intimately both to the dust and the ground and to God. There is, we might say, ‘the dignified dust of our humanity’. It provides a kind of corrective to Genesis 1, we might say, by emphasizing our connection to the dust and the ground. It counters our tendency to think more highly of ourselves and our relation to others than we should. It humbles us and thus suggests that the true dignity and worth of our humanity is found through humility. Humility incidentally come from the Latin and has as its root, humus,which also refers to the ground. In a way these lessons ground our humanity in relation to God and the created order wonderfully.

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