“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.