Michael and All Angels 2011 – The Vergers’ Evensong
Welcome! Welcome all of you to this the opening worship service for the annual conference of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church. I am so glad that so many of you have traveled to Cleveland; and on behalf of Bishop Hollingsworth, our cathedral wardens, vestry, staff, congregation, verger emeritus Ed Metz, head verger Anthony Kastellic, and all of the Trinity vergers, I bid you welcome you.
Michael and All Angels is such an appropriate feast day for the beginning of the Annual Vergers Conference. To many clergy (especially smart parish rectors and cathedral deans) vergers are angels – messengers from God, servants of the Holy One – who are given to the church to help maintain order and dignity in our liturgy, to lead the parade, and sometimes protect the backsides of their clergy colleagues.
And what better angel to commemorate today than the archangel Michael – the dragon slayer – that powerful agent of God who battled evil on behalf of God and God’s people? After all, many artistic images portray Michael as a well-costumed person carrying a big sword or stick with a cross on its top. Good vergers, I trust though you couldn’t bring your sticks on the plane, you did bring those great outfits, I hope some of you brought your fabulous hats, and I know that you’re wearing your angelic halos.
Seriously, angels are an important part of our faith heritage. They date back to an earlier time when the human imagination was very lively. Since we humans don’t really see God, scripture tells us that we can see angels. In fact, often it is an angel of God that speaks in scripture. Angels are eyes and ears, the hands and mouths of the Holy One – ministers who do God’s biding and God’s will.
As our reading from The Revelation to John reminds us, there were four archangels: Michael, the warrior; Gabriel, the announcer; Raphael, the healer; and Uriel, the angel of death. These archangels were part of a larger hierarchy of heavenly hosts, present at the creation and making up what liturgical scholar Gail Ramshaw once called the “crowded skies.” Together, angels, described by Hildegard of Bingen “living light,” defend the honor and majesty of God.
Our spiritual ancestors looked to the angels for guidance, wisdom, and protection. During times of trial and tribulation, persecution and war, disease and famine, people turned to the angels for hope and sustenance. During the time of Jesus, and shortly before and after, when life for Jews and Christians was particularly difficult, the authors of scripture told the story of the battle of the angels over good and evil. According to the scholars of these ancient texts, such stories gave hope to the hopeless and courage to the fearful. Thus, the angels usually announced themselves saying, “Fear not!
Now we might say that we no longer need such angels. Some would argue that we’re too smart, too enlightened, too well-educated, too scientific, or too post-modern. But I would argue just the opposite. Like those who came before, we also are living in challenging times, and we too want to be protected. It’s just that the stories of our angels are told in film, photograph, novels, and comic strips. That’s where we free our imaginations.
Are not Superman, Bat Man, and Spider Man more than super heroes? Are they not considered by many of us angels battling evil on our behalf? Isn’t Harry Potter a warrior for goodness? Isn’t Luke Skywalker the archetype of an angel? Might Buffy the Vampire Slayer also be a modern version of the angel? Just use your imagination.
Friends, we need to restore our religious imagination. For it is only through our God-given gift of imagination, the ability to visualize, that we can recognize the Holy One and the divine messengers in our midst. In this evening’s gospel reading, the apostle Nathanael recognized Jesus as “Son of God.” Nobody announced to him. He saw the fullness of God in Christ through the eye of his imagination, and so must you and I. And sometimes, angels are there to help us when we are deafened and blinded by fear.
A few weeks ago, I came face to face with an angel. I met a little girl. She was from Africa. She had a history that I didn’t know, but I knew it was powerful and probably painful. She was with her mother. We were having breakfast. She was completely absorbed in listening to her iPod as I quietly spoke with her mother. I was speaking of something very frightening, and I said to her mother that I had confronted the darkness around me. Without missing a bit, the little girl looked up, tapped me on the arm, handed me her earphones, and said, “Listen, I want to you hear something.” I put the earphones on and listened to the Beatles sing “Here comes the sun.” In that moment, I once again heard the voice of God and was no longer afraid.
Thanks be to God for the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven and earth.