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Revelation 12.7-12John 1.47-51

This coming Thursday marks the day that Germany uses to celebrate the reunification of their country. On 9th November it will be thirty years from the day the Berlin Wall opened, allowing east Germans to flow across to the formerly forbidden west and vice versa. A year later history had moved on, and Germany was reunited.

It was about this time that we were developing our partnership with the church in Magdeburg, which had in effect been a Russian garrison town on the edge of the Soviet empire. I remember seeing dispossessed Russian soldiers disconsolately wandering the streets on one of my first visit. You can’t imagine how significant our friendship as a western church was to these people of the east, and it is a friendship that has grown in partnership over those thirty years.

In Magdeburg then I remember hearing a modern east German folksong, telling of an angel flying over borders and frontiers, and seeing the world, as it were, from another perspective. The song, of course, had political connotations in a society where freedom of speech was constrained, and above all it held the yearnings of a people who wanted to build bridges rather than walls.

These were heady and hopeful times, a wind of change and expansion of the European Community to bring in countries formerly under Communist rule. In these confused days now when we are so uncertain about our own relationship to our European neighbours, when barriers seem to be going up, rather than coming down, we must hold on to our Christian calling to be messengers of God’s reconciling love.

Today is the festival of St Michael and All Angels. It’s a wonderful celebration of what I think of as a fourth dimension to living. We are used to the three dimensional world all around, but I’m convinced there is more to life than what we can see. We are more than just rational beings, which is why we have to search after poems and art and music to express what we are feeling. After all, as the Creed proclaims, we believe in a God who created all things ‘visible and invisible’. And in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer in Holy Communion we join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, singing ‘holy, holy, holy’.

In the summer I had the chance to visit some beautiful churches in Norfolk and the Fens, which have quite special roofs. They are made with wooden hammer beams, and each one, the length of these big churches, is decorated with stunning wooden angels. Apparently these angel roofs are a feature of that part of the world. You have to put your head right back to look up at them – literally people had to raise their eyes to heaven to see them.

Yet in the Bible angels are nearly always messengers, sometimes also fighters in the battle for good over evil. Their message and very being is very grounded – take the angels at the beginning of Luke’s gospel for example: ‘peace on earth and good-will to all’. This heavenly perspective, far from taking us away from reality, sheds God’s light on reality. Angels proclaim the message of peace: we are called to live out that message of peace, messengers of God’s reconciling love

It is another perspective from which to view life, the heavenly perspective which we seek every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: your kingdom come here on earth as in heaven. It is, of course, a way of seeing one another in a different light too. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews advises us to keep our eyes well peeled: take care, it says, when entertaining strangers for we may well be entertaining angels unawares. So we don’t just check out those heavenly angels, but check out the angels alongside of us too.

This coming week some of us are joining the Archbishop of Birmingham and the Bishop of Worcester in an ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome. Through this we hope to further build up the relationships between Catholics and Anglicans, that the Church too may be a sign of God’s reconciling love, so sorely needed in our troubled and divided world. All these actions and indeed anything we chose to do to overcome division and bring about reconciliation is godly business, and it is our business as Christians. May the holy angels defend and guard us all, that we may live up to our calling to be bridge builders, bearers of the good news of peace and good-will revealed in Jesus Christ.

Questions:

  • Can you remember when you entertained an angel unawares?
  • How can you be a reconciler where you are?