Many congratulations to Deacon Corinne Smith! She celebrated the 20th anniversary of her ordination yesterday by preaching and deaconing at the Eucharist. Corinne has a special affinity with St Michael and her homily celebrates angels, which she’s kindly shared.
‘Angels in general, and St Michael in particular, have always been very important to me. It began when I was born – on the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. The first Anglican Church I attended from the age of 7 was St Michael and All Angels,
Croydon; and I have vivid memories of taking part in a school production of Paradise Lost – although I was disappointed that the part of Michael went to my friend Alexandra Fogden!
During my ordination training I spent 18 months at St Michael and All Angels, Steventon. I was ordained at Michaelmas, and during the service was seated immediately opposite the St Michael window in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. I went to serve my Curacy in a Team ministry in Abingdon, where one of our churches was St Michael and All Angels – and my training incumbent’s name was Michael (but I won’t speculate about his angelic qualities).
As The American deacon, Bill Ditewig, has noted in a recent article, In Eastern traditions, deacons have been frequently been associated with the role of angel in the community. In particular, deacons are often associated with angels who would later be described as Archangels. Michael, the great defender of the people; Gabriel, who announces and explains great messages, and Raphael: a healer who guides and protects his charges.
At the ordination service for Deacons, the Bishops says, “Deacons are called to work with the Bishop and priests with whom they serve as heralds of God’s Kingdom. They are to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love. Sounds like there’s a lot of similarity between a deacon and an angel to me!!
Michael appears in the Old Testament as a special helper of Israel, but it is from the account in the Book of Revelation that he has become best known, as the principal fighter of the heavenly battle. In Christian art St Michael is usually portrayed fighting a dragon, representing the devil. By his actions, St Michael is bringing the light and goodness of Christ to overcome the forces of darkness of sin and death.
The other archangels whom we are thinking about today are Raphael and Gabriel.
Raphael’s name means ‘God has healed’ and he, like Michael was venerated in the East as a healer since early times. He is sometimes identified with the angel who stirred up the healing pool in Jerusalem, and many healing guilds have been placed under his patronage, including the Guild of Health and St Raphael, of which I am a member.
Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength” is, in the Old Testament, the angel who helped Daniel understand his visions, but is best known in the New Testament as the angel who told Zechariah about the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist, and who then came to Mary to announce the future birth of Jesus. In neither case, the human beings involved had any idea what was about to happen to them, but the angelic messengers entered into their situation and brought news which would turn their lives around.
What is important about angels for our purposes is that in both Jewish and Christian tradition angels are messengers and agents of God, who bring messages to human beings and intercede for them.
I think there are several things here which relate to the work in which I have been involved down the years as a Chaplain both in hospitals and in a hospice. Firstly, I would say that all who work in the medical profession, have the potential to be angelic messengers for God to the patients they encounter every day.
For doctors, for example, the news they bring may not be good, but through the knowledge and skills which God gives them in different ways, God can, and does, use them to be agents of his purposes to bring people healing and wholeness. Healing is, of course, not the same thing as cure and, indeed, some of the most whole people I’ve met have been chronically ill, or even at the point of death.
Secondly, God created people in his own image and so, in every person we meet, whether in hospital or in general life, there is something of the divine spark – no matter how dim or distorted it might have become as a result of the way their lives have gone. In my encounters with patients I try to recognise that, as I approach a hospital bed with a patient lying in it, the ground on which I am standing is holy.
Thirdly, I would say that all who work in healthcare should, like Moses before the burning bush, take off their metaphorical “shoes” – that is to say, all the things that protect us and keep us at a safe distance from people – titles, medical jargon, religious language, platitudes, even dog collars – we can hide behind them all! But this would be to miss the opportunity for the kind of human encounter which can allow both chaplains and medical staff genuinely to accompany people on the painful journey they are on; to walk with them and allow ourselves to be used as channels of God’s compassion and healing.
There are many different kinds of angels in the Bible, who work in different ways. but what they have in common is that they are all God’s messengers, there to support, help, and intercede for people; but it’s not just deacons who are called to this ministry…..we all have the potential to be angels. Each one of us with our different callings and gifts can be messengers for God wherever we find ourselves, by the way we treat people.
Our churches are awesome places. They are none other than the Gate of Heaven. These are the places where we gather for worship, to be transformed and renewed, as we hear the message of the angels; but they are also the base from which we are called to go out into the world. We are therefore all called to be angels, heralds of the Kingdom in our community: sharing the Good News of God in Christ to renew and transform the lives of others amongst whom we are set.’