For Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011: the Feast of St Michael and All Angels

The Reading            Genesis 28:10-17

For the feast of St Michael and All Angels we read an account of the unusual dream that Jacob had while fleeing from his angry brother Esau. The word that is translated ladder means more nearly a ramp or stairway, or even a stepped pyramid like the Tower of Babel. But God is in this place, as shown by the angels going up and down about God’s business. Listen for this in the Gospel as well.


The Epistle            Revelation 12:7-12

The word angel comes from a Greek word meaning ‘messenger’, though one could as well translate it ‘emissary’. The wider meaning makes a little more sense of today’s reading from the book of Revelation, in which Satan and his angels are thrown out of heaven by forces led by the archangel Michael. For those of us not already in heaven, the ending of this reading is more than slightly sobering.


Further thoughts…

Jacob runs away from home so fast that he doesn’t even take a toothbrush or a pillow, and he runs until it is too dark to go further. The text doesn’t tell us that he is trying to outrun not only Esau but also his father’s God. That is a reasonable surmise, however. The significance of the site in Genesis involving a ramp or stairway is that those structures were characteristic of pagan temples: that is, Jacob has fallen asleep on ground holy to another god. Even here God’s angels are at work and God is present.

The Hebrew word that is translated as ‘angel’ is malakh. It is much more a job title than a description: a malakh could be a human messenger, and the malakh or angel of a congregation would be the leader of the synagogue. This practice was followed by the early Church, which is why the first three chapters of Revelation are addressed to the “angels” of the churches of Ephesus and  Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

By the fifth century AD, the doctrine of the nine hierarchies of angels had developed, as had a much fuller sense of angels as beings created by God to do God’s will in the world and to guard and guide God’s children. Whether we’re in pagan country like Jacob or hiding up a tree like Nathanael, we’re never beyond the notice and the caring of God. Nor are we beyond the duty and the privilege to act as God’s messengers ourselves.

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