This Tuesday, September 29th, is the feast-day of Saint Michael and All Angels, but because the Archangel Michael is the patron saint of soldiers and police personnel, we are celebrating him today, as we recognize and thank our First Responders.
So let’s look at a few questions about angels:
What is an angel?
What do they look like?
What do they do?
The best way to talk about what an angel is might be to compare them with us, human beings.
Humans are created by God, and angels are also created by God. We are two separate creations of God – people who die do not become angels.
Psalm 8, verse 5 says this to God: “You have made [humankind] a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.”
Humans have free will, and so do angels. This is clear from Revelation, chapter 12, verse 7, which says, “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back.”
Each of us humans was created by God at a specific point in time. But all the angels, as far as we know, were created by God at the beginning of time.
Humans are mortal – we die. Angels are immortal – they live forever.
Humans are male and female. Angels are neither male nor female, although artists have painted them as being male.
Humans have children – that’s a by-product of our mortality. Angels never have children.
What do angels look like? In the earliest days of the Bible, it was God who appeared to people, taking on human-like form.
In Genesis, chapter 18, verses 1 and 2, we read: “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him.”
Angels are spirit-beings – they do not “look” like anything, but they may take on a human appearance when they visit us.
“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” The answer is – ALL of them! Because they are spirits and don’t take up any space.
The Bible has a hard time describing angels, so it falls back onto human terms. We are told that they have wings, probably because people believed that heaven was somewhere up in the sky, so angels would have to fly to get there.
So what do angels do?
“Angel” in English comes from Latin and Greek and means “messenger.” The primary work of angels is to be messengers from God to human beings.
Angels are also our guardians. Psalm 91, verse 11 says: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”
People all have names, but only three angels are named in the Bible, and we call them “Archangels” which means “top” angels.
They are Gabriel, who appeared to Mary, Raphael, who played a role in God’s healing of people – and no, he wasn’t a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle! – and Michael, who led the whole army of angels in battles on God’s behalf.
Gabriel is God’s announcer. He first appears in the Book of Daniel, where he brings God’s words to Daniel and also tells him what they mean.
Tradition also says that Gabriel was the angel that God sent to warn Lot to leave Sodom and Gomorrah. But he is best-known from the Gospel of Luke.
First, he comes to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, to tell him that he will soon have a son, and to name the baby John.
Then he appears to the Virgin Mary with a message from God. Gabriel assures her that her baby will be the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
There’s one more place where Gabriel is found, at least by tradition. St Paul writes that, at the end of time, “a trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.” [First Corinthians 15:52 King James Version] Tradition holds that it is the angel Gabriel who will sound that last trumpet.
Raphael is only found in the Apocrypha – in the Book of Tobit. There, he appears as a traveler and accompanies Tobit’s son on a dangerous journey, protecting him from demons and wild animals. Later he heals Tobit of blindness. Because of his association with healing, Raphael is the patron saint of doctors and nurses, and tradition has it that he was the angel who came down and stirred up the waters of the pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the crippled man who couldn’t get into the water fast enough.
There is one other angel in tradition, called Uriel. His job was to warn people of the impending punishment of God and call them to repentance. Tradition is that he was also the angel with the fiery sword who was placed at the gates of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were expelled.
And now we come to our saint of the day. Michael is known for many things. As I said, in the Book of Revelation, he leads the battle of Armageddon against Satan and his angels, and conquers them in God’s name.
So, fighting evil or the forces or powers of evil is one of the things that the Bible tells us that Michael does.
And that leads us to look at the brave and selfless people among us who strive to combat evil and evil-doers, and the consequences of evil.
When people join the armed forces, or the police or fire departments, they are often in great danger – even danger of death. Like Michael, they go forth bravely to protect us and serve God.
The Gospel of John tells us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [John 15:13]
And also: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd… sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” [John 10:11b-12]
St Paul reminds us in Romans, chapter 5: “…rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.” [Romans 5:7-8]
So, we trust that God watches over soldier, sailors, police, fire, and emergency personnel – and keeps them safe. And one way that God does that is to give them the example of the Archangel Michael. That’s why we call him the patron saint of the police and soldiers.
We should think of all angels as symbols and reminders that God Is always present with us, even in ways that we don’t see or realize.
And we are thankful that God often sends us men and women who act just like angels – serving us, protecting us, and rescuing us.
And so we thank God for the angels among us – today and every day.