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Michaelmas

Today is Michaelmas – the feast of St Michael.  St Michael of course, is not just a saint but also an angel and not just any old angel but an archangel. And not just any old archangel but the archangel who – so Revelation tells us – threw Satan out of heaven, which is why he is so often depicted in art decked in armour, brandishing a sword with the devil vanquished under his feet.

So today is rightly the day when we hear the vision of the war in heaven between St Michael and the devil and we celebrate the ultimate victory of good over evil. But – today is not just for St Michael – today is properly the feast of St Michael and ALL angels. Interestingly when we read the story from Revelation we hear that not only does St Michael have angels – but so does the devil, Which made me wonder about the ALL angels bit – does it include the devil's angels too? The angels that were thrown out of heaven? Is this really the feast of ALL angels – or just the good ones?

Now this is the Church of England – so we always have a choice – in fact we didn’t need to celebrate St Michael and any angels at all today – we could have had an ordinary Sunday – the 19th Sunday after Trinity – and we could have left the angels out of it altogether. 
If we had chosen to do so the gospel reading we would have been the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus.  In this story the rich man ignores the beggar Lazarus in life and chooses to live it up.  When they die the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus is carried by the angels to heaven. The rich man begs for Lazarus to be sent to warn his brothers but he is told that there is a huge chasm fixed between heaven and hell – between St Michael and his angels and the devil and his angels and no one can cross.  The rich man is told that God has already sent Moses and all the prophets to warn his brothers and if they won’t listen to them – well what can be done? 

What I found interesting is that whatever readings we chose for this Sunday – we have a gap – this chasm between:  heaven and hell; between poor Lazarus and the rich man;between St Michael and his angels and the devil and his angels.
A gap which - according to Abraham in the story of Lazarus and the rich man - cannot be bridged – even by Moses and all the prophets, which I guess we would feel happy enough about … if only we were sure which side of the chasm we were on.

Which brings us back to St Michael.  I know you all remember what St Michael’s name means – because I ask you every Michaelmas (well at least for the last 2 or 3). His name is a question – and the question is “who is like God?
Who is like God? St Paul who tells us in his letter to the Romans that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … None of us, it turns out, are like God.  Which makes me wonder what side of chasm we are on and whether St Michael might want to throw us out too.

But..(because with God there is always a but)...BUT Abraham was wrong when he said that nothing could cross the chasm because after St Michael threw the devil and all his angels out of heaven, someone else was thrown out too, well not thrown out exactly – but someone else crossed the chasm and came after the devil. God came. God in Christ came after the devil – leaving St Michael behind just as the good shepherd left the 99 and came after the lost sheep.

So whilst the gospel reading for the 18th Sunday after Trinity talks of a great chasm between heaven and earth the gospel for St Michael and all angels talks of Christ standing in that chasm and the angels ascending and descending upon him like a ladder.
When we look again at our reading from Revelation – which seems at first so triumphalist and conquering – we read that,although the war was fought by St Michael brandishing his sword, it was not actually won by St Michael, but by Christ, the lamb that was slain; the victim who laid down his life for ALL, both the ones in heaven AND the ones thrown out of heaven.

A victory won, not by might, but by love. The only weapon, Martin Luther King reminded us, which can defeat an enemy by turning him into a friend.  For God, victory never involves one side winning and another losing.  In God’s victory we all win – even the devil and all his angels.  No one is thrown out, we are all welcome home.

 

RBT - 30-09-2013