“by Fr. Travis O’Brian”
St Michael and All Angels October 1, 2017
Gen. 28: 10-17
Rev. 12: 7-12
John 1: 47-51
In the Nicene Creed, we confess faith in the “Maker of all things, visible and invisible.” Today, as we celebrate the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, we praise God for the goodness of his invisible creation. I think it is important to say that although we tend to think of angels as ‘heavenly’ creatures and closer than we to the throne of God, nevertheless the Bible makes it clear that the life of heaven and the life of the earth is one life; and that we are with the angels caught up in one and the same destiny, the same work of salvation, the same battle for the victory of life in God over the diabolic powers of separation and death. So the whole of God’s one creation, visible and invisible, is caught up in the same movement, the same strife, the same glory, the same end, where Christ will be and already is all in all.
Angels and humanity share in the ‘groaning’ of the whole of creation for this ‘end.’ The good news that we Christians are sent to share with the world is this: that this ‘end’ isn’t to arrive just at the end, but the end of all things, the hope of all things, the good of all things, the life of all things, has already been given to the world in the very midst of its groaning for it. The good news is that the fulfillment and the joy of creation has already come in Jesus; that in him the eternal peace has entered into the very tribulations of history. Victory has been won for us in the heat of the battle – without yet putting a stop to the battle, the battle of St Michael against the dragon, the battle of the life of love against the powers of separation and death.
Let’s take a closer look at that story, of Michael and the dragon from The Revelation to John. The scene with which our reading began, war breaking out in heaven and the appearance of the archangel St Michael, needs to be set in context. John begins the chapter (12) describing a vision: “a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” The woman is the nation Israel, the twelve stars representing the twelve tribes, the sun signalling that it is she who bears the light of light. The woman is in labour, about to give birth to a son, when suddenly “behold a great red dragon . . . stood before the woman . . . that he might devour her child when she brought it forth.” But the dragon is foiled, for the son is “caught up to God and to his throne,” while the woman flees from the dragon into the wilderness where, John writes, she is protected and nourished by God.
From those descriptions, we can start to put together the story. If the woman is a figure for Israel, and if her flight into the desert alludes to the story of Exodus – then we are to understand that the dragon is Pharaoh. Furthermore, John says that the ‘son’ to whom she has just given birth, “is to rule all nations with a rod of iron” – rule, that is, with an unbreakable shepherd’s crook – an obvious allusion to Christ Jesus, ‘the great shepherd of the sheep.’ Thus the dragon, waiting to devour Israel’s son, is also Herod, who sought to kill the infant Christ. Moreover, by describing Satan as a dragon, John clearly wants to draw attention to Genesis 3 – the story the ‘fall’ in which the dragon, by deceiving Eve and Adam, opens the door for the many powers of separation to enter into the relationship between God and his creation: the deadly powers of sin. On earth, humankind will never again live in perfect union with God. Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden; and God curses the dragon, promising perpetual “enmity” – that is, war – between it and humankind; and that a son of Eve will “bruise” the serpent’s head.
Taking all these allusions together, we find in this short Chapter of Revelation the arch of the story of the Bible in miniature: the story of the fall, the Exodus and the history of Israel, the coming of Christ Jesus – all of what theologians refer to as ‘salvation history’ we find is bound up in St Michael’s war with the dragon. In John’s vision, the events of the Bible are not presented in sequential order, but as if the whole story is present in every moment. And that story is ‘about’ the to-ing and fro-ing between earth and heaven in the war against the dragon.
It is, after all, in John’s vision an earthly event, the birth of the son of Israel, Jesus, which stirs up the war in heaven. The whole Bible is the story of how the visible and invisible creation, are bound up in a single destiny. And in Christ, that destiny arrives.
His coming rouses the dragon to a pitch of wrath. Michael and his angels throw the dragon from heaven, but he is increasingly dangerous in defeat. John is writing in a time of Roman persecution of the Church. Christians are dying in this war against the dragon, though the dragon has lost the fight already, for in Christ death has already been defeated. Yet this does not mean his powers of destruction, whereby he still seeks to separate God from his creation, are not in full force. John describes the dragon’s two most dangerous weapons:
First, the dragon attacks by “accusing (the faithful) day and night before God” (12:10). The word ‘Satan’ means “accuser.” He attempts to shake us from the certainty that God is love and will never separate himself from us even in our sinfulness. Satan knows if he can shake our faith in God’s eternal love for us, he will have us for himself. Second, the dragon attacks by deception. Jesus calls the devil “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Satan deceives us by confusing us about life and death. He says: “the apple is life; take it and eat.” So he deceives us into believing we will find life where in truth there is only death; and he deceives us into seeing death wherein lies the way of true life – that is, in the way of the Cross.
BUT, says John, the faithful join Michael in throwing the dragon down. And where Michael is depicted with a sword, we fight with two spiritual weapons. First, we conquer by “the blood of the lamb.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is our constant assurance of God’s abiding love, our ‘proof,’ in St. Paul’s words, that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers . . . nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38). Secondly, armed with that faith, we throw Satan down “by the word of our testimony” – by a life which demonstrates our faith that not even death can separate us from the life and love of God; and that we will therefore pick up our Cross and follow him, even to places we would not choose and we do not want to go.
On this day, we remember that Michael and the angels are fighting for us. But we are also to remember that we are fighting the same fight for the angels. There is one fight as there is one life, for there is one God and one Lord of life. Christ is born anew in every action in which we demonstrate trust in the one life of God and faith in the love that not even death can separate us from. It is by that love the dragon is thrown down.