We don’t seem to think about angels all that much anymore. Maybe it’s because our culture doesn’t connect with the classical image of fluffy, harp-strumming cherubs. More likely, it’s because the very notion of Divine Messengers is just plain weird: sentient beings other than homo sapiens is the stuff of science fiction and fantasy. And this speaks to a deeper point: we can’t seriously believe that things like this are real, so we confine our imaginative reflections on cosmic and human meaning to these genres of speculative fiction.
Yesterday’s Feast of St. Michael and All Angels provides a corrective shock to our collective imagination. And by “imagination,” I don’t mean a fanciful rumination on things that might exist but clearly aren’t. Instead, I mean the “image,” or “view” we have of everything that really does exist, and what it all means. And the most imaginative book of the Bible, which contributes the second reading for the Feast Day, spells out this meaning for us:
“’Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah…’”Revelation 7:10
We’re told that this cosmic victory of Christ the Lamb’s authority and kingship is achieved through his struggle with the reality of darkness and death on the cross. And we’re promised a share in this victory when we bear witness to the truth of God’s love, as part of the Lamb’s struggle against darkness and death.
And to help with this struggle is “Michael and his angels,” who “fought against the dragon” and emerged victorious. Maybe this image of angels winning a war against a dragon describes something that really happened, or maybe it’s just as fantastical as the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Either way, what’s most important is the causal relationship in play with that “now.” The Lamb’s “salvation and power and kingdom” are prompted directly by St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. It’s not that Jesus needs the angelic host to win the kingdom for him; it’s that his victory in death and resurrection encompasses all of time and space, and beyond: from the humble witness of your life’s story and mine, to the grand, epic, supernatural realm of the angelic battlefield. We’re called to imagine all of it placed under his lordship.
The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine, and the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, aren’t meant to be vestiges of triumphalist, blind optimism. Revelation was written in view of a stark awareness of the facts of darkness and death, and our vision of angelic victory is meant to be approached with those facts in mind as well. And that isn’t difficult for us right now, at a time when it’s easy to see our human frailty and our capacity for destruction: a global pandemic, ingrained racism and destructive climate change, to name a few. If this Feast is a shock to our imagination, it’s because it invites us to hope. It calls us to imagine that even now, in ways big and small, agents of God’s love are moving about the cosmos, saturating the very fabric of our lives with God’s power to heal, restore, encourage and strengthen a frail human family and a groaning creation. Alongside the angels’ defeat of the dragon, may we find the “word of our testimony” at home in the victory of Christ the Lamb.