The Feast of Saint Michael The Archangel
(This sermon was delivered at The Church of the Advent, Boston, MA on 26 Sept. 2007.
Scripture readings for the feast were Genesis 28:10-17; Revelation 12:7-12; and John 1:47-51)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The feasts of the Church are always challenging us to experience reality as something more than what our senses can perceive and what our minds can comprehend. Celebrating the Feast of St. Michael together with all the bodiless powers of heaven, we are invited to enter a reality which extends beyond the physical including the parameters of time and space. The celebration of the angels affirms the multifaceted dimensions of created existence. Therefore, the feast beckons us to take those initial steps into a fuller reality - a richer reality - where we enter into a con-celebration with the immaterial powers of heaven praising and worshipping the One God in Three Persons.
From within this festal celebration unity between humanity and the angels is revealed. The diversity of human existence joined to the diversity of angelic life forms a symphony of created plurality maintained within the unity and plurality of the Holy Trinity. Man and the angels are called by God himself to celebrate the liturgy of new and eternal life. Given this liturgical context, we can say that the con-celebration of the new and everlasting covenant by human and angelic beings offers an epiphany of the incomprehensible unity and diversity of God who desires to raise up every one and every thing into his very being. Together with the angels, we who are in Christ form the UNA SANCTA given to the world for the life of the world and its salvation.
Human beings are incomplete without the angels. So too are angels incomplete without human beings. The solidarity and unity of creation revealed liturgically stresses the reciprocity or sharing of knowledge between angels and men. The angels teach us and show us that our knowledge of God - and therefore our communion with God - is direct and not through intermediaries. This basic reality is implied in the Genesis reading for the Feast. Before the giving of the law by angels to Moses (cf. Gal. 3:15-20), Jacob dreams of a ladder set up on the earth and reaching to heaven. We hear that "the angels of God were ascending and descending on it". (28:12) At the top of the ladder is God—not the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac, not tablets etched with the law nor a scroll containing the words of the Prophets who were yet to be born. The angels in Jacob's dream reveal to him and to us that the human ascent to God is first of all initiated by God who through his angels - through his messengers - calls us to ascend to him and to abide in his life.
The angels of Jacob's ladder are not intermediaries but precisely the bearers of Good News. They declare to Jacob and to us that we are called to ascend into divine life. By their ascending and descending, the angels in Jacob's dream bring time and eternity into an inseparable embrace where God, and his creatures—bodiless powers and human beings—dwell in never ending communion.
However, the ascent to God is a struggle. Genesis offers us a vivid picture of this struggle as Jacob wrestles with what appears to be a theandric being - a GodMan being. After the wrestling match, Jacob's name is changed to Israel i.e. the one who wrestles with God. (cf. 32:28)
Like Jacob, our ascent to God is indeed a struggle. It is an ascetical struggle in which we wrestle with God, with ourselves and with each other ever striving with the Holy Spirit to overcome our physical and spiritual passions, which bind us to a one-dimensional existence of sin and death.
Angels and men exist in order to participate in the divine life. Yet, this participation is not exclusively for the supra-rational and rational beings. The angels are created to assist humanity in maintaining its union and communion between God together with all creation. Angels do not rule over humanity. They are the servants of humanity. They are charged by God to assist humanity in bringing the creation into a never-ending and ever progressing intimacy with divine personhood and divine life.
Angels have the vocation to assist humanity in transfiguring and deifying creation. Human beings with the help of the angels are to lead the creation not only to Christ but also into Christ. Hence the COMMUNIO SANCTORUM - the communion of holy ones and holy things - is possible when men and women with the assistance of the angels offer or raise up in the context of the Eucharist the entire created order into the deified life of the Triune and Tri-personal God.
While teaching and assisting humanity, the angels are also being taught. Man teaches and shows the angels that through the incarnation of the pre-eternal Word and Son of God the physical body is predestined to be the abode of divinity. The physical body is destined to be the temple of the uncreated light. Man's ascent to God teaches the angels that material and physical existence are not naturally separated from God. On the contrary, the ascetical ascent of the human person to God makes possible the restoration of the proper relationship between God and all of creation including the hosts of the immaterial and bodiless angels.
However, the restoration of the relationship between God and creation requires the involvement of the angels. Just as humanity is called to reveal the beauty of deified physical reality to the angels, it is the angels who remind the human person that the physical must not be treated as an end in itself. The angels show the physical to be transparent i.e. not bound to itself and to its spatial and or temporal parameters but having its beginning and end with God.
It is here that restored and fallen realities come into conflict. In the language of the Bible Satan leads the rebellion against God. Satan is the great adversary who travels the world seeking to lure his accused into a mesh of lies that ultimately leads to sin and death. In Genesis, Satan leads man and woman away from God through the lie of self-apotheosis. Consequently, those created in the image and likeness of God are sealed by Satan with the mark of death, which spreads to the entire creation. Satan is the lying accuser. He is also the diabolos - the great divider - who seeks to separate every one and every thing from God. Fallen angels and fallen humanity freely collaborate in tenaciously holding back the creation from discovering its purpose and achieving its end. Rebellion against the creator is manifested in the rebellion of the fallen against creation. For the fallen seek to keep the creation fractured and disintegrated.
The battle of restored and fallen realities is described in the reading from the Apocalypse. We hear of two opposing armies - one led by the Archangel Michael and the other by Satan. The account forms part of the culminating cosmic drama in which the faithful of the Church i.e. those who have been regenerated and restored to life by the blood of the Lamb share in his victory over sin and death. This victory is shared not only by the faithful. It is also shared by the archangel Michael. The victory over sin and death through the blood of the Lamb makes possible Michael's victory. In the Gospel according to St. John, the Lord announces before his crucifixion that "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out, and I, when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself." (12:31-32) The Apocalypse affirms the victory of the cross as it describes the fall of Satan from his privileged place in heaven. Because Christ has taken upon himself the sin and death of all humanity, he identifies himself with the world ruled by Satan. Consequently, the Lamb of God stands accused not only by religious and political figures - not only by Jews and Gentiles - but also by Satan. The ruler of the fallen accuses the Lamb of seeking to overthrow his dominion of sin and death. And what is the penalty for this rebelliousness? - death on the cross. But, to the horror of Satan, the cross is transformed by the Lamb into a weapon of ultimate victory. Christ the Lamb has destroyed death by his death. The lesson read from the Apocalypse declares that Satan, the accuser, is defeated by the accused. It is Michael the Archangel of God and his army who rout the evil one and his allies: "...they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven." (12:8) Defeated and expelled from heaven, Satan continues to maintain his authority. Thrown down to earth Satan continues to prowl "around like a Lion seeking someone to devour." (1 Pt. 5:8) Satan's time in the world is short. Nevertheless, like a cornered animal Satan now strikes the hardest. It is the UNA SANCTA that must strike back with ascetical vigilance nurtured by the Holy Spirit. With St. Michael and the angels, we are to extend the work of the crucified and risen Lord through time, space and beyond. Together with the angels we are to draw every one and every thing into the unity of the Son of Man upon whom angels ascend and descend. Amen.
(c) 2007 Father Robert M. Arida