Monday, October 01, 2012

A Marriage on Michaelmas

Detail of the Resurrection Window, by Harry Wright Goodhue, All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church, Washington, DC. Photo by Ron Ross.

A homily for a wedding at All Souls on September 29, 2012, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  The scripture readings are Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Psalm 100, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, and John 15:9-12.

Today is a feast day in the Christian Church.  It is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, sometimes called “Michael Mass,” or simply, “Michaelmas.”  Mike and Hilary didn’t pick this day for this reason, but it’s a great day for a wedding.  It’s a great day because it’s about angels.

When most people hear the word, “angel,” they think of the typical sort of thing:  the kind of beautiful, winged, flying, swooping, heavenly being such as is depicted in many of our stained glass windows.  Angels appear in art and architecture. 

But angels are more multidimensional than often shown, or sung about, or written about.  The basic Hebrew letters used in scripture for “angel” is ambiguous.  It could mean “king.”  It could mean “angelic being with wings and mystical powers.”  Or it could mean a messenger.   Sometimes it’s difficult to tell, and then sometimes, the word means a mixture of things.

Think of the time when someone you knew was “like an angel” to you.  Or think of the time that a stranger came out of nowhere to help you.

One of the best-loved icons of the Church is sometimes called the Old Testament Trinity.  It’s a picture of the story where Abraham and Sarah meet three strangers.  The strangers sit down to a meal with them, and in the sitting and the sharing, God’s plan is revealed:  Sarah is going to have a baby and Abraham is going to become a Father of Nations.  By entertaining strangers, they have met angels.  They have met God. 

The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews makes this explicit when it says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). 

The Gospel we have heard today uses a very old fashioned word to describe a way of being.  “Abide” in my love, Jesus says.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  “Abide,”—keep on, stay at it, stick with it, last, endure, stretch, abide. 

Hilary and Mike, you already know something about abiding in God’s love.  You have weathered the storms of feelings that come with any new relationship.  You have abided the ups and downs of changes in work, and family, and housing.  You have lost.  And you have gained.  But even before this day, you have built a foundation that will help you abide.  And it’s a foundation of angels.

Friends, family, church folks, professionals, coworkers, strangers, saints (both those family members who loved you and have now joined God fully, as well as those saints of all time, some of whom you may not even yet know are pulling for you)—all of these are angels, holy messengers, beings who convey the love and presence and strength and power of God. 

Frederick Buechner writes that
Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well.  Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t.  An angel spreads its glittering wings over us, and we say things like “It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive” or “I had a hunch everything was going to turn out all right” or “I don’t know where I ever found the courage.”  (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, 2)
Mike and Hilary, as you are married on the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels, I encourage you to be angels to one another—messengers of God’s love, God’s wisdom, God’s holy sense of humor, God’s infinite spirit of forgiveness.  And rely on other angels—those in this room, those who would like to be in this room but could not, and those who will show themselves throughout your lives whenever you most need it. 

May God mercifully grant that as his holy angels always serve and worship him in heaven, so by his appointment, may they always help and defend us on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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