Hallo again to all.
[Today's letter is by Gillian Barr, the Education editor of Anglicans Online. You may notice a certain educational bent to her writing...]
Today is Michaelmas—the Feast of St Michael and All Angels. It's an ancient holiday, with so many old traditions surrounding it. In England one ate a goose on Michaelmas. In Ireland one looked for a ring hidden in a Michaelmas pie. We don't eat geese (though we are working our way through a roasted whole chicken) and we've never had a Michaelmas pie. But we do stop today and think about angels.
In popular culture, angels are sweet and nice. We hear 'You're an angel' or 'A secret little angel gave it to me'. Little girls in church pageants wear white dresses and halos and sing 'like angels'. In the Bible, angels are messengers. They usually start by saying 'Fear not'—knowing that they are fearsome.
An angel appeared to Hagar in the wilderness. Three appeared together at Abraham and Sarah's tent at Mamre and shared a meal; one later halted Abraham's hand as he reached to slay Isaac. Some ascended and descended ladders while Jacob slept. One appeared in a burning bush to Moses, and another helped him guide the people of Israel through the wilderness. Gabriel surprised the young betrothed Mary, and angels perched on rocks outside the empty tomb. In every case, the angels had to know the message they were to deliver. They had to know to whom they were delivering it. They had to know where to locate that person. And they had to know how best to deliver it. Was it sharing meal cakes tentside, or pointing out a ram in a thicket?
All of us Christians need to be messengers. We are regularly told to 'spread the Good News'. So maybe we are among the 'All Angels' celebrated today. We probably shouldn't begin our messages with 'Do not be afraid', but what should we say?
Recently we were at an event that began with a message from a videotape machine, and ended with comments by a priest. The video was about 'how to make a mission statement come alive'. Most mission statements end their lives hanging in a frame on the wall, or embossed into stationery. This video was energetic and inspiring, full of motivated, enthusiastic young employees of a well-known fish market talking about how they were committed to their employer's mission, how they lived it out, and how they coached one another.
After the video, the priest talked about a mission statement. His tone of voice and his body language showed so little enthusiasm that we wanted to rush up to him with a double espresso. The contrast with the video could not have been greater. Instead of taking away a sense of excitement about ministry and mission, we left discouraged and uninterested. The message was lost. Delivery matters.
Nearby, a church is having trouble raising the money it needs for a capital renovation campaign. When parishioners ask their leaders for specific, concrete ways the church's mission will be improved by the renovation, the parish leaders cannot give a complete answer. They are convinced that it's the right thing to do, despite the costs. But they have not yet found the right way to convey their enthusiasm and message to the church members. Content matters. Instead of 'Fear not', perhaps these messages should begin with 'Sleep not' or 'Look not out the window'.
Angels were effective messengers; that may be why God used them. And they weren't angelic, in the modern sense of that word. How many times have you been told 'be an angel' or 'act like an angel'? Today, Michaelmas, perhaps we might try to act like a Biblical angel by wrestling people or standing in the middle of the road to oppose donkeys. If nothing else, we'll make the newspapers. And that's one way to bring a message.
This week we at Anglicans Online will try to bring a message about God to somebody who is not expecting it. We aren't going to be campy and start with 'Fear not!'; we're just going to be brave and say it.
See you next week.
Last updated: 29 September 2002