The late 80’s and early 90’s were not good times if you were an actual angel. It took the combined powers of Michael Landon, Roma Downey, Della Reese, and Aerosmith, to completely muck up the conception of angels in popular culture. The Heights asked us How Do You Talk To An Angel, which is apparently like trying to catch a falling star. 1994’s Angels in the Outfield rounded the bases, so to speak, of angel culture.
None of these depictions of angels has anything to do with reality, of course, and that doesn’t matter a whole lot except that the reality of angels is sooooo much better than all of that pop detritus.
The scriptural word “angel” (Greek: angelos) means, literally, a messenger. Messengers from God can be visible or invisible, and may assume human or non-human forms. Christians have always felt themselves to be attended by healthful spirits—swift, powerful, and enlightening. Those beneficent spirits are often depicted in Christian art in human form, with wings to signify their swiftness and
spacelessness, with swords to signify their power, and with dazzling raiment to signify their ability to enlighten. Unfortunately, this type of pictorial representation has led many to dismiss the angels as “just another mythical beast, like the unicorn, the griffin, or the sphinx.”1
“Especially in the New Testament, when God’s plan of salvation in Christ takes a major step forward, angels make an appearance, as if by their very presence to highlight the importance of the message: “Glory to God in the highest, for born this day to you in the city of David is the savior, Christ the Lord.” Angels minister to Jesus in the toughest moments of his work for us, in wilderness and garden. Angels bookend the empty tomb and proclaim the Easter message, “He is not here. He is risen, as he said!” And the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God will announce Christ’s second coming, when all his angels accompany him, and the final victory celebration is announced.
“To be sure, there are false angels, with false messages. Satan himself, a fallen angel, is the father of lies. He wants nothing more than to distort and pervert the true word of God, and turn the good news into bad news. He would tell you that your salvation isn’t sure. That it depends on your own good works. And that your sins are too terrible even for God to forgive. He would pollute the Christian message with all sorts of mixed messages to unfix our eyes from Jesus. And his goal is ultimately to drive you to despair and unbelief.”2
Back to some good angels. “Of the many angels spoken of in the Bible, only four are called by name: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. This being the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, it’s commendable, I think, to look at Michael for a moment. “In Hebrew, Michael means “who is like God?” (with a question mark), a signifier of strength and power given to Michael by God. We don’t like to talk much about spiritual warfare, but Michael is the Prince of the Heavenly Army, the vanquisher of Lucifer, the ultimate created power in the spiritual world. Michael is often depicted in art standing over a defeated Satan, his sword or his spear being readied for the final blow. It’s in this role that Michael defends us as well as heaven, and the Church looks to Michael as a powerful ally as we fight against those who would see us perish.
But as St. Michael would tell you himself, he is but a messenger of the Lord; even in all his glory he is just reflecting the glory of that same Lord whom Michael has the privilege and honor of seeing face to face. Though we are not angels and we don’t become angels when we die, we too can be messengers, messengers of the living God. We too get to bring good news of great joy to the people around us, we too get to proclaim that Christ is risen, we too get to sound the trumpet that heralds our Lord’s coming to us. We actually get to join with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven to laud and magnify the glorious Name of our Lord. That sounds pretty good, so let’s do that, and in the meantime, may St. Michael protect you now and forever.
1Lesser Feasts and Fasts
2Tom Chryst, St. Michael and All Angels, Preachrblog.