Thursday, September 27, 2007

Saint Michael and All Angels

St. Andrew's Episcopal School - Upper and Middle School Chapel

Genesis 28:10-17; Psalm 103:1, 19-22; John 1:47-51

Night night. Sleep tight. I’ll see you in the daylight.

So goes our nightly bedtime tuck-in with our six-year-old son.

Good night, Little Charlie. Sweet dreams and happy turnovers.

And then he pulls his covers up close over his shoulders, wraps his arms around his stuffed bear, and shuts his eyes…

I wonder what bedtime was like for Jacob that night, alone in the wilderness, a stone for a pillow and nothing but desert air and a starry sky for covers. Did he lie there awake, wishing for his childhood when his parents tucked him into a warm bed at night? Night night. Sleep tight… Did he lie awake, remembering old stories, all the times he and his brother Esau had, by the skin of their teeth, gotten away with all sorts of tricks and schemes? Most of them had been his idea… Or did he lie awake on the hard ground, his heart pounding, his every breath choked with conscience as his mind raced through the life-altering scheme he had just pulled off?

Just a few days earlier – or was it a lifetime ago? – Jacob had tricked his father into giving him the blessing and birthright that should have been Esau’s. Now Esau hated Jacob, says the storyteller in Genesis, and he vowed to take revenge by taking Jacob’s life. Jacob weaseled one final blessing out of his father and then took off through the desert, covering his deceptions with his dust.

He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. And did he lie awake, staring into the wilderness night, seeing nothing but his guilt and grief? Nope. He dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth… and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it…And God said to him, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…”

Well, good night, Little Jacob! Sweet dreams and happy turnovers! How is it that this scheming, manipulative, honor-code violating man gets to dream about angels while I – not a perfect saint, I know, but not a Jacob, either – I dream about fighting giant blobs of sticky goo with nothing but a yellow comb and Scooby-Doo at my side?

This remarkable story of this sweetest of dreams is always read on September 29, the Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels. On that day, the ministry and mystery of angels is marked and celebrated. Our scriptures, as well as stories from other faith traditions, are filled with angels bringing messages, singing anthems, rescuing prisoners, warning of danger, guiding to safety, making promises, announcing wonders. They come by way of wings and dreams, but also sometimes by foot through the front door. And always, always, it seems, the first words out of their mouths are, Do not be afraid!

There’s not much to fear from the angels we see these days, drawn in soft pastels on greeting cards, glittering gold on a keychain, smiling, chubby little cherubs gracing coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets and even the packaging for bathroom tissue. These angels bear little resemblance to the divine beings who bring the glory of God so near the air itself trembles.

What do angels look like? The lower school students have been coloring pictures of angels in chapel class, and now the walls of the room where we meet are covered in hundreds and hundreds of them. Many of their faces reflect the different colors of our skin. Their robes reflect every color of the rainbow, some in combinations perhaps even heaven has not imagined. Some are holding crosses, or hearts, or birds, or swords. Some say things like Praise God or I love you. One actually says Boo! Do not be afraid…!

The truth is, most of us probably won’t dream sweet dreams of angel-laden ladders, and we won’t hear a heavenly choir sing (although ours perhaps comes close?) and we won’t ever see white feathers or gleaming halos. The Reverend Herbert O’Driscoll suggests that for most of us, “Angels’ wings and their glory are hidden, their voices are familiar and they speak of everyday things.” Just as Jacob dreamed of a way between heaven and earth filled with those through whom the presence of God is made known, so are we surrounded by that presence at all times and in all places. Every moment, every choice, every encounter we have with one another in this wide, wild world contains the possibility of encountering the presence of God in one another, of others encountering that presence in us. The air trembles around us. As Jacob said, How awesome is this place!

So how is it that Jacob dreamed his sweet dream? It turns out there’s not a single one of us, saint or sinner, to whom God is not willing to make the promise, Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go… And so our way through the wilderness is covered in hundreds of thousands of angels appearing in the faces of strangers, the smiles of friends, the comfort of cool breezes, the sudden and deep knowing that we are not alone and that we have what strength it takes… Surely God is in this place and we did not know it! How awesome is this place!

In the night and in the daylight, my friends, sweet dreams… Amen.


Cathy said...

Scooby doo? What did you have for supper last night? Madeleine L'Engle. All night, all day, angels watching over me, my Lord. Fret not. I love probing your mind, tracing your thoughts. I love knowing that God knits these thoughts together into the fabric of a sermon or homily that stirs the listeners/readers to tracing their own thoughts about the work of God in their lives...

Butterfly said...

Good post.