This Sunday, September 29th, is the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. I guess if I'm honest I've never really given much thought to angels. I mean, they're supposed to be messengers from God, but I've never personally encountered one with shining wings and a halo and all that. This is not to say, however, that I don't believe in them. Many world religions speak of spirit beings or guides who are intermediaries between God and humankind. I'm now too old NOT to believe in the unseen. What does Hamlet say? “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Traditionally, the Western Church has celebrated this feast as Michaelmas. It is considered to be the time of the harvest and the beginning of autumn—the time when the books get balanced. As the leaves begin to fall and the world begins to get colder and thoughts of the departed and my own mortality fill my mind, I like to think that there might be a heavenly spirit hovering over me, giving me benign guidance or, at the very least, keeping me from screwing up too badly. Maybe it's been the presence of angels which has brought me safely to this point in life after all. Who knows?
For me, though, the only angels I know are the flesh and blood messengers who speak divine wisdom to me when I most need to hear it. God has been very good to a poor dufus like me—a habitually lazy, unsuccessful actor with a tendency towards excess. How could it be that I came to be this beloved Lutheran pastor with a beautiful wife, comfortable home, and a real sense of meaning in my life? There must have been some guidance from beyond.
At different times, God has placed people in my life who have given me wisdom, comfort, and sometime financial support when I most needed it. I have angels in my parish and among my circle of friends. At times my wife can be an angel. I even consider my shih tzu dog an angel! (She really DOES remind me of God's love all the time!)
I've only had one really mysterious encounter. I was walking in Center City Philadelphia one night many years ago just before I was to begin duties at my present parish. I'd had a bad fall from a horse while riding in Fairmount Park the week before, and I'd really sprained a groin muscle. I was in pain and had a terrible limp. As I hobbled down the sidewalk, I saw a heavy-set African American woman wrapped in an old overcoat leaning against the wall of a storefront and talking gaily to the passers-by. I assumed this woman to be a street person, one of the many homeless pan-handlers one sees in downtown Philly. I reached into my pocket for a dollar bill, certain I was about to be accosted for a donation. The woman smiled at me and said, “Look! You're Jacob, and the Lord has put your hip out of joint to make you new!” I smiled and said something like, “I guess He did.” After all, I was about to begin a new life as the pastor of my church. The woman never asked me for money. I limped on a few more steps and thought about how God had made a transformation in my life, of how I had been wounded but blessed, of how the last few years—which had included the death of my unborn child, the death of a dear friend, the death of my mother, and a divorce—had made me ready to take on the responsibilities of shepherding a congregation.
I turned around. The woman had vanished.
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PS- If you're Lutheran or Roman Catholic, help celebrate the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by making this plea for Christian unity. Ask Pope Francis to let Lutherans and Catholics share the Holy Supper once again. Just click here.