Christians declare their belief in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. Angels are the unseen forces in creation beyond the comprehension of our earthly senses. Angel means messenger and the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, is the same word in Hebrew. The key events in Israel’s history involved angels. The most ancient title for God was ‘the Lord of Hosts’ ie the Lord of the angels. There were angels making music when the foundations of the earth were laid (Job 38.7). The Garden of Eden was guarded by angels. Abraham gave hospitality to 3 strangers not realizing that they were angels. An angel appeared to Hagar in the desert and ‘The Angel of the Lord’ told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac. Jacob saw in a dream a ladder with angels on it, going up into heaven. Angels supported Elijah at Horeb. The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, both High Priests, had vision of angels in the Temple which they described in vivid detail, part of which we still use in our Liturgy each Sunday when we say ‘therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy holy name evermore praising Thee and singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy etc.’ That’s just a few examples from the Old Testament.
The first Christians lived among angels; they worshiped with angels, and felt the presence of angels among them. Angels mark the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly life. At the Nativity and at the Resurrection and Ascension there are angels. Elsewhere Jesus spoke of angels serving him when he was tempted by Satan in the desert, and of an angel strengthening him in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Archangel Gabriel appeared in the temple to tell Zechariah he would be the father of John the Baptist and then he told Mary she would be the mother of the Son of God. An angel told Joseph in a dream that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit and the child should be named Jesus. Angels told the shepherds that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. An angel told Joseph to take Mary and the Child to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. Jesus taught that we have guardian angels Mt.18.10. when He invited the children to come to Him.
When the Sadducees questioned the resurrection, Jesus pointed out that they had failed to understand that the dead are like the angels in heaven.
Angels appear in the Easter story; Matthew says they saw an angel roll the stone from the entrance to the tomb. Luke and John say there were two angels in white. When Jesus was parted from his disciples and taken to heaven in a cloud, two angels told them he would return in the same way. An angel delivered Peter from prison in Acts and finally the Book of Revelation is set in the angel world of the first Christians. St John describes a vision in which he was taken to stand before the heavenly throne where he saw ranks of angels. Then there was war in heaven, St. Michael and his angels fought the dragon and his angels, and the dragon was forced down onto the earth. Finally St John saw the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven and the ultimate restitution of all existence. It is, of course, a vision of the triumph of good over evil, of love over hate and life over death, God’s response to the petition ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven, and, of course St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of Welshampton, is the hero, his name means ‘who is like God?’.
The Epistle to the Hebrews (ch 13) teaches us to –
Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
The Liturgy of Saint James, the oldest living liturgy, contains the angelic hymn, ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silent……Rank of rank the host of heaven spread its vanguard on the way……At His feet the six-winged seraph etc.’
One of the most sublime moments in music for many people is the chorus of angelicals and the angel’s farewell in Elgar’s setting of Cardinal Newman’s poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’. Gabriel Faure’s setting of the Requiem Mass, a source comfort to millions of grieving people, ends with the prayer sometimes used at funerals called the Paradisum.
May the angels lead you to the gates of Paradise
May the saints and martyrs welcome you to the Holy City Jerusalem
May choirs of angels sing you to your rest
With Lazarus raised to eternal life
May you have eternal rest.
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The feature image for this post is Saint Michael Defeating Lucifer by Giuseppe Marullo (cropped from the original), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.