Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Angels and Priests
September 28, 2014, 2:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 28th September 2014

The Michaelmas daisies in my garden are now in full flower; I’m told that the scientific name for them is Aster Novae Angeliae, more or less the New Angel Star. Why St Michael was first associated with September 29th I have not been able to discover, but his feast was one of the old Quarter Days, marking the end of the agricultural year.

Angels figure quite largely in the Bible: an angel spoke to Abraham, another wrestled with Jacob, and various others spoke to key figures in the Old Testament. We also read of angelic armies defeating the enemies of Israel. In the New Testament, angels bring tidings to Zechariah, to Mary and Joseph, and to the women at the Resurrection. Angels rescue Peter from prison, and reveal the future to St John.

Our Lord himself speaks of the angels: he speaks of seeing them going up and down upon the Son of Man, of little children’s Guardian Angels looking upon the face of God, and so on. The reality of angels is part of the Christian Gospel.

But what are angels? Great theologians down the centuries have speculated about their nature. The Franciscan St Bonaventure thought they might have bodies made of light; the Dominican St Thomas thought they have no bodies at all: they are pure spirits. But the Bible itself is not interested in questions like these. The Bible does not say what angels are; it tells us what they do.

The word “angel” simply means a messenger; angels appear as the messengers of God, bringing instruction or comfort to God’s people. They are intermediaries, spokesmen, representatives who are sent by God to give his Word to human beings. They are also guardians and protectors, defending us against the malice of the devil and all the enemies of God. When I was a young priest, we always used to recite at the end of Mass the prayer: “Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” I still like to say regularly the prayer to our Guardian Angel: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love entrusts me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.”

Michaelmas also used to be one of the regular times for Ordination (less so nowadays), and we give thanks once again for Fr Alwyn’s priestly ministry, which began at this season. Priests have a number of affinities with angels, in that what is important about them is not their personalities but their office. Priests are messengers of God, and guardians of his people. The Greek word from which we get “priest” was also used for ambassadors. An ambassador is sent by a king or government as a representative. The dignity of the ambassador derives from the one he represents. He may, in his own person, be Lord This or That, or he may be Joe Bloggs born on a council estate: but as Her Majesty’s Ambassador he stands for the Crown Itself. A priest should never forget that he is only a spokesman, a messenger, nothing in himself.

Angels are also guardians, and a priest is a guardian of the Lord’s people, a shepherd (or rather under-shepherd) of the Lord’s flock. The word “bishop” comes from a Greek word meaning “one who watches over.” In the book of Revelation St John refers to the bishops of the churches as their “angels”. Satan prowls around, sometimes disguising himself as an angel of light, always with the intent of deceiving the people and leading them astray, leading them into danger so that they may be hurt or killed. Satan is a liar, the Father of Lies, and the pastors of the Church can only defeat him by holding fast to the Word of God, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life, to whom the Holy Scriptures give infallible witness. Priests must be men of the Bible.

The Apostle Paul reminded his hearers that he simply passed on to them what he himself had received: that God in Christ reconciled the world to himself through the Cross; and that we share in his sacrifice as we eat the Lord’s body and drink his blood in the Eucharist.

In the presence of the holy Angels we are giving thanks for the ministry of one Fr Jones, Fr Alwyn Jones, and we are preparing for the ministry of another Fr Jones, Fr Jones Mutemwakwenda. I understand that the necessary documents have now come from Africa, and so we may hope that a date for the inauguration of his ministry can be set quite soon. Let us ask the Lord that this may be so, and let us thank him for all his messengers and guardians, both earthly and heavenly. Amen.

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