Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Therefore with angels and archangels . . .

Today is known variously in the Church's calendar. For most Anglicans it is the solemnity of St Michael and All Angels; for Roman Catholics it is the solemnity of St Michael, St Gabriel and St Raphael, Archangels. The festival reminds us of the true nature of our worship, our way of living, and our warfare. Mainly because of the quotes from Eric Mascall, I share with you part of a talk I gave in 2001. 

The Catholic Christian has a devotion to the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as well as a personal love of our Lady and the saints - those of our brothers and sisters in Christ who surround us in that great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on, supporting us with their love and prayers as we run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2) They are our brothers and sisters in glory, always part of the meeting of the Christian community for worship (remember . . . “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name . . . “) as we are made part – even now – of the heavenly Mount Zion, the innumerable companies of angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect. (Hebrews 12:20-22)

St Paul speaks of Christians as those “upon whom the end of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Furthermore, in the letter to the Hebrews, we are described as those who have (already) “tasted of the powers of the age to come.” (Hebrews 6:5) That’s why there can be found among us a dynamic sense of God’s presence, and an openness to both “ordinary” and “extraordinary” workings of his grace. In addition to our daily and weekly round of prayer, worship and service, we believe in times of spiritual refreshing - including the healing ministry and pilgrimage to shrines of Our Lady – in which we seek renewal and a deepening of our lives in Christ. 

Tied up with these things is the Biblical conviction that we are involved in a kind of “mopping up” operation in which Jesus’ decisive victory on Calvary is applied to the lives of people like us, and that from time to time this might even include the ministry of deliverance and exorcism. Now, I know that some of our liberal friends smile condescendingly at remarks like that, but no less a scholar than Dr Eric Mascall reminded us in his Boyle Lectures that 

“. . . it is part of traditional Christian belief that, behind and beyond the physical universe, there is a realm of purely spiritual beings, in whose affairs we have become implicated. I need hardly recall you to the tremendous and superb imagery in which the last book in the Bible . . . depicts the warfare in the unseen world between the angels of light and the powers of darkness.” (E.M. Mascall The Christian Universe Darton, Longman & Todd, London 1966, p. 110) 

Mascall later pointed out that 

“Scripture, tradition and Christian experience combine in assuring us that the struggle against evil with which Christians on earth are concerned can be seen in its true proportions only against the background of a vaster and more mysterious conflict in the unseen world in which they, too are caught up. When we are faced with the claim that Christians in a secular age ought to live as completely secularised men we can only reply that such a programme does no justice either to the true nature of this world or of existence as a whole . . . It ignores also the resources which we have at our command.” (The Christian Universe p. 129) 

At the beginning of St John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus told Nathaniel that he would see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51). This is a powerful image. We know that Jesus is OUR Jacob’s ladder (Cf Genesis 28:12), and that in him heaven and earth are joined. As Anglican Catholics we are challenged to live and minister intentionally under that open heaven, entirely dependent on Jesus, who “works with us, confirming the Word with the signs that follow it”. (Mark 16:20)


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