'They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’ Revelation 12:11
I want you to imagine a theatre production. Even if you’ve never been to one, you will, most likely, have acted in a nativity play as a child. As you imagine that scene, come with me as I introduce to you the three groups of people involved in the production. There are of course the actors: this is the group of people whom we recognise, and whom take the bow at the final curtain. The second group of people are those who work behind the scenes: think of the producer, the prompt, the stage hand, and those in charge of the wardrobe. These two groups are the essence of the action, but there is a third group of people whom we need to recognise, and without whom everything would fall apart. That person is, of course, the Director. Without him or her the actors wouldn’t know when to speak, or indeed how to act. The Director is absolutely key, in any and every performance.
As we turn to this week’s Feast of St Michael & All Angels—or Michaelmas—I want you to keep that image of a theatre production in mind, and indeed think about those three groups of people. The point of this feast is very simple: to lift our eyes from the immediate—from the everyday—and appreciate the spiritual world which is all around us. This is like the actors in our play, pausing for a second and recognising the work of the support staff; and in so doing, reminding themselves, and us, that the play is only possible because of the other groups of people. For just as there are three groups of people involved in a theatre production, so there are three groups of people in the spiritual life. First, the actors - these are human beings, the Church, you and me, who live out our lives, in front of the world. Second, The director, well no prizes for guessing who He represents. The director is God, He guides all those involved in the play; and indeed in this story, the director is also the script-writer, for God has determined the story of the world from the very beginning. Finally, there are the support staff, those who work behind the scenes, and whom—if we are not careful—we too often forget; and these represent the angels. These are those whose work is often unseen, and without whom the actors cannot operate. The angels are those who fight the invisible but no less real spiritual battles, and without whom the physical battles we see everyday would already be lost. Angels are not—as we usually imagine them—cute little girls, dressed in a pillow cases, with tinsel round their heads. No, angels are those from whom we would hide our faces and their first words in the Scriptures are usually ‘Do not be afraid’. They are God’s warriors, God’s messengers, and also God’s choristers, and they are not, not to be trifled with.
Let’s turn our attention to the Second Reading from the Book of Revelation (12:7-12). Here we have a true story which took place—if we can think of time in regards to heaven—at the very beginning of the world. Verse 7 says: ‘And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.’ Before Adam & Eve fell, before there was any evil in the world because of human beings, angels rebelled against God, and in doing so committed the first evil act. God’s response was to send Michael and his angels to fight against this evil, and to cast it out of heaven: ‘The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him’. Here is the origin of all evil. Here is the origin of the snake in the Garden of Eden. The one who tempted Eve, and through whom all of human kind—in one way or another—turn against God. So the first thing we need to realise at this Michaelmas Feast, is that the angels were fighting evil, since literally Adam was a lad; and their job continues to this day. So just as with the theatre production—who without the support staff, the actors would not be able to perform—so in the spiritual life without the angels, our efforts in this world would be for nothing. Too often, just as with actors, we are so focussed on our own lives, on our own battles against sin, against pride, against deceit, that we forget, that behind-the-scenes angels are fighting the crucial spiritual battles, which make it possible for our puny efforts to succeed.
However, we must not be tempted to think that the victory against evil lies in the power, or in the hands, of the angels. They do their job—and they do it very well—but their victories depend upon another. And that other is of course God, verse 10: ‘Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming: ‘Now have come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah’.’ Just as with our play, where the support staff only know what to do and when to do it, because they are directed, so too in the spiritual world: where behind the angels’ victories lies the power and direction of God. It is God who defeats all evil, God who wins the overall war which allows the angels—and indeed us—to win the smaller battles; and that war was won by God, as He died on the cross. It is easy for us to miss this, because we are bound by time, and chronologically speaking, the defeat of Satan happens before Adam and Eve, and therefore before the cross. However, to God and to heaven time does not bind them. So when the Archangel Michael turns to battle Satan, he completes his victory—with His eyes firmly fixed, and His arm empowered—by the cross of Christ. That is God Himself—the director Himself—stepping on to the stage of this world, and defeating evil once and for all. Michael and his angels win, but only because of the cross.
Now it is time to turn to our last group of people, the ones we normally think about and focus upon—the actors—that is each and everyone of us. There is a danger to focusing on angels, and that is to think that we play no part. That we are powerless in the face of evil, and therefore we should hide away and take no further part. But a play without its’ actors, is no play at all. Though the principal actor Jesus Christ has played His part, still the other actors, must play theirs. We Christians have our parts to play! So how do we join up to fight evil? And how do we fight it when we get there? Both questions find their answer in verse 11: ‘But [Christians] have conquered [the Devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.’ Our first step to joining the fight against evil, is to recognise and trust in Christ crucified and by being baptised into his death. Faith and baptism, then is how we join the fight against evil, and without doing so—and whether we acknowledge it or not—without such a decision, we remain on the opposite side. Having joined the fight against evil—having joined the Church—our second question is how do we fight, and the answer is: ‘by the word of our testimony’. That is, our principal tool and our principal task in the defeat of evil is to share the story of Christ and His cross with the world. Here is how people are rescued from Satan’s army and enrolled in God’s. Here is how your family member, your friend, your colleague, your neighbour can be brought to heaven. It may seem foolish to merely speak but speaking is the role that God has given us, the position of truth-teller, to win souls for Heaven.
So today, as we gather together for this mighty Feast of St Michael, and as we take part in the Eucharist, we are being strengthened, we are being encouraged, and we are bring prepared for our part in the battle between good and evil, a battle which has cosmic and eternal significance. We worship now with the angels, and as we do, we are sent out to fulfil our role, to fight against evil: ‘by the word of our testimony’. As we go to battle we can be sure that St Michael and all the angels go with us. And we can be sure of the ultimate victory because of Christ’s cross. Amen (from Fr Mike).