3rd October 2021

St Michael and All Angels: Sudbury

Revd Chris Eyden

OK, so here’s a confession: I love Lucifer! The Netflix series about the Devil getting bored in Hell and coming down to earth, to Fall in Love with a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. Lucifer is impossibly Handsome and Sexy in that way only the actor Tom Ellis who plays him, can be. Lucifer becomes a detective, fighting crime and punishing evil doing. He has two brothers, Michael the Arc Angel, who is a nasty piece of work, mostly drunk and hell bent on destroying Lucifer and returning him to Hell. His other brother, also an angel, of course, is Amenadele, AKA Raphael, a kindly angel who tries to manage his wayward siblings and, in the process, falls in love with his psychotherapist with whom he has a baby, also an angel obviously. Can you see why it’s addictive enough run to 6 series! It does tell us that Westerners are
obsessed with things celestial. Heaven and Earth and the communication between them, are big business.

It doesn’t though, tell us a lot about this Celebration of St Michael and All Angels, commonly called Michaelmas. The name of the purple autumn daisy. Historically the beginning of the Academic year, Oxford and Cambridge start in Michaelmas term. In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the end of the “husbandman’s year” when the harvest was done, and accounts were settled, and hiring for the next year took
place. The Biblical depiction of angels shows us something important to heed when we try to domesticate Angels and use them as pets or Talismans or Netflixise them, we make them our guardian Angels, ask them to find our keys or bring us good luck. ‘You have made them little lower than the angels’, says the Psalmist of human beings. Right at the start, that puts us in our place. Angels are not there to serve us;
they’re there to serve God, and they were created higher than us because they’re closer to God: they minister in heaven. And if we look at the named archangels in the bible – Michael, and Gabriel and Raphael, they help us to learn more of God and God’s purposes, and so they help us to learn too more of humanity and humanity’s purposes.

Michael means ‘Who is like God?’ And the immediate answer, of course, is no one. No one is like God. God is not a bigger thing among a universe of things, or an accumulated projection of our better virtues. God is God, and that means that all the other things we often allow to take his place are not God: Nation, religion, family, celebrity, power, success, or wealth. Michaelmas especially, recalls us to the truth that none of these is like God and they can’t be worshipped. Paradoxically, Christians have a very different answer to the meaning of Michael’s name. Who is like God? In our Gospel, Nathanael sees from under the fig tree. Jesus is like God, for Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father. Jesus shows us what God is like. And extraordinarily he shows us what God is like by becoming one of us. He takes on flesh and lives and die as one of us, and he ascends, from death and into heaven, raising our humanity with him. Jesus is like God. And because Jesus is, I am, and you are, and so is every human being, made in the divine image. The name Gabriel means ‘God is my strength’. Gabriel reminds us that we’re not in this life on our own; that when we feel bewildered and helpless about the world’s problems, and entirely unconvinced about our own capacity to meet them, Anxious about Covid, Petrol shortages, the destruction of the planet, the loss of not one but two priests lately; hurt, anger and frustration with politicians; the Church of England, “God is our strength” Raphael means ‘God is my healer’, and he reminds us that our vocation is to be agents of God’s healing and reconciliation in the world. We don’t have to look far to find brokenness – whether we look within or without. God’s action in redemption is to draw back to himself a creation lost and broken and hurting when it moves away
from the love and purpose for which it was made. As individuals we need to let God’s grace do its work in us, seeking out the parts of our lives that are broken or bruised or lost, or where we’ve given up hope that things might ever be different.

God is our strength, and that strength may not show itself through political clout or the influence wealth buys; or successful meetings with Archdeacons or shiny happy lives, in fact, it will probably not look like strength as the world perceives it. It will look more like the courage and commitment it takes for the mother of Sarah Everard to face down her daughter’s killer. For the victims of misogyny and sexual assault at
the hands of the police, to tell their story; it might look like the long fight for Vaccine equality across the world, it may look like the refugee struggling to feed her children, it might look like the patient work of love in service of our church and loyalty to our community when we feel like we’re at the end of our tether or tempted to scapegoat to avoid the truth of things. God is our strength, aiding us by the ministry of the angels, sustaining us in the struggle for truth and justice and goodness and love because God in Christ has already won the victory against universal evil of all kinds. These are the places in which we will taste a freedom and healing which we cannot then help but share with others.

In an increasingly divided and fragmented society, churches have the potential to be communities of reconciliation, drawing people together, offering hope and redemption to those who have been denied it, and so being a sign of the kingdom that has come in Christ. We should not be the most fearful, the most cautious, the most closed, we must resist that rather brittle anxious behaviour all too often found in the C of E, we must refuse to hide away behind doors and minds that are closed. Whether we are contending with Michael, or announcing good news with Gabriel, or seeking to heal with Raphael, what we are engaged in is a shared task with the angels: we are participating in God’s reconciliation of our church, our world, indeed the whole cosmos, to himself. I do believe in angels, in the sense that there really are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy and angels help us to do God’s work.

For me, this year, this celebration of the feast of St. Michael and All Angels is a gift. It sets the tone for the months to come. Months that will be crucial and foundational for St Gregory’s and Sudbury, as you begin the search for a new Priest to lead you. There’s a lot of work to do. The Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, challenging, holding, and healing will have a lot to offer as God’s messengers as the process unfolds. As the sun lowers in the sky, and the days shorten and shadows lengthen, Michaelmas directs our attention to the horizon and beyond, to the heavenly host— to those who are always above and beyond us—the angels. As we move toward the Autumn festivals of Harvest, Halloween, All Saints, Remembrance and All Souls Day—Christianity continues to direct us to the culmination of all things—to those who have gone before—and then to the coming of Christ as we welcome Advent. The culmination of all things, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, angel choirs—and even the Church of England, all things find their reason and their rest in Christ. All of this invites us to experience God’s grace in our own lives and the life of our church, with a little bit of “Netflix Lucifer” for distraction, somehow, I think
we’ll come through OK! I wish you a Happy and Holy Michaelmas.