I don’t know what you think or feel about Angels, but what I can say is that Angels have always caught the popular imagination. Abba sung about them, and so did Robbie Williams, and of course many of the great hymn writers have written about them. But do we, or dare we, believe in them?

Well, like Abba, I need to be upfront and clear and declare that ‘I believe in angels.’ I believe in them because angelic belief is doctrinally orthodox belief. Just think about it: in a few short minutes I am, during the Eucharistic Prayer, going to suggest that when we come forward to take the sacrament of the Eucharist we do so ‘with the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven,’ and that as we do so we are going to join with them in singing the unending song of praise:  ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest,’ and that, to borrow a word from the Old Testament reading, is an ‘awesome’ thought.  When we pray, our praise is so directed towards heaven and the very stuff of eternity this place, this church, truly, unequivocally, demonstrably, really, truly becomes ‘none other than the House of God.’ Angels exist, first and foremost, to remind us that there really is a world beyond the here and now and that the implication of this is that our praise and worship must be the very foundation of our Christian life.

Humans are designed and created to worship, we can’t escape this fact. The only question is therefore ‘what is the direction of our worship to be?’ Is it to be inward looking and self congratulatory, or outward and upward looking, towards God? There are really only two choices and the angelic mandate is to orientate our worship towards God.

But praise and worship isn’t the only angelic task, for Angels are also heralds of God’s word. Angels remind us that God’s ability to speak into the here and now isn’t contingent on human will, or human intellect; to believe in angels is therefore a call not just to praise and worship but also to humility and to an understanding that there truly is a greatness to the mystery of our faith.

Our faith is a transcendent and mysterious faith and angels remind us of this as they draw us into a company that is far greater, wider, and more diverse than we can possibly begin to imagine. So can I encourage you not to just to believe in angels, but to be open to the exquisitely angelic?  Can I  encourage you to become angelic?

Now don’t panic, I am not expecting you, although it might be interesting, to turn up next week for our harvest festival in floaty white dresses and tutus!

Rather what I am asking you to consider is integrating the various angelic roles into your life of discipleship. I am asking you to make prayer, praise and worship, central not only to your Sunday by Sunday way of life, but your daily life; to become as the ‘angel voices ever singing.’

I am also asking you, like the angels, to wait on God, listen to His word and then proclaim it. I am, finally, asking you to become part of God’s army, the ‘church militant’ if you like, fighting for good over evil and justice over tyranny, for that is also part of the angelic vocation.

Angels are God’s ambassadors and so should we be.

If we take inspiration from the Angels through the vibrancy of our sacramental worship, through attending to God’s work and then proclaiming it to all who have ears to listen, and if we dare to fight for the good and speak truth to power, then we will be both an ambassadorial church, an angelic church, and a missional church.

We will be a truly Christ-like church, Amen.

 

 

Let me begin with a story:

About nine years ago I found myself in the retreat centre for the Ely Diocese for a three day period. The reason I was there was that I was on something called a Bishop’s Advisory Panel, or a B.A.P.   A B.A.P. is the selection conference you go on to be assessed for your suitability to train for ordained ministry. One component of the assessment is that you have to give a short presentation to a group of fellow candidates. So one afternoon I found myself listening to a presentation given by a very academic type. It is fair to say that the presentation was not going well. In fact the presenter, who did end up getting ordained, knew that his presentation was unravelling so, in an effort to rescue his the situation, he decided to ask the following question: what is your favourite hymn?

I quickly settled on an answer, and blow me the first person in the group nominated my hymn. Then the second person nominated the next hymn that came to my mind and thus it continued, and I began to panic; big time. In fact my brain froze and I couldn’t remember a single hymn! This troubled me deeply because I happen to know that I have been singing hymns since at least June 1974, for this was the date on which I received my primary school hymn book: Christian Praise. I had at that stage been singing hymns for around 40 years yet I couldn’t remember a single one of them.

Finally, just as it was getting to my turn a hymn came to mind, chosen probably because my B.A.P. was just after Holy Week: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. When I vocalised my choice I experienced two sensations: a feeling of approval from the assessors and a sense that my fellow candidates were thinking ‘you smug so and so.’

But, the truth is that we, God’s people, should spend some time on a regular basis surveying The Wondrous Cross. We shouldn’t do so only on Good Friday, for it is through surveying the Wondrous Cross that our faith deepens, our discipleship grows, our innate holiness is ripened and we grow in Christian wisdom. We need to regularly gaze at the crucified Jesus, for the cross is the place where we learn about two things: what humans, you and me, are capable of at our very worst and what God is truly like. When we learn to survey the Wondrous Cross what we see is human weakness and divine strength. What we see is the limit of human power and the limitlessness of divine power. When we survey the Wondrous Cross we see human hatred encountered and transformed by divine love: what we see is Love, Love, Love; that’s what we see, and begin to absorb for ourselves when we stop at the cross.

We have spent some time over the last few months trying to work out exactly what it means to “be church”, thinking about the things that we do and the things that we are called to be as part of the body of Christ. I have to say that it has been very heartening for me, to come in here as curate and see that there are so many people engaged with the calling that we have. But firstly i would like to talk about the building. Of course, this church building is a special place, at the geographical heart of the community. Whenever I come here there are resonances of what has gone before, all those fellow pilgrims that have travelled through here before, all that history but without the people this would just be a pretty building.  It is what happens in here that makes it a truly sacred space, it is the human interaction with the building that makes this place truly special.

Because as beautiful as this church is, and I doubt anybody would doubt that it is indeed wonderful, it is not its beauty that brings us here.  The fabulous stained glass windows, although they are a help, are not the focus of our devotions. Where our focus is, is usually the altar. Every week we come here and the Eucharist is celebrated there before being distributed. That is the place at the intersection between God and us, where something mysterious and glorious occurs.

The other place is no less important and yet we walk past it most weeks - I certainly know that I am guilty of that. It probably doesn’t get thought of all that much but it is easily just as important as the altar because that is where our journey commences, the place where we are first brought into the Body of Christ, where the mystery, the adventure begins. The font where we are baptised.

I occasionally get into conversations where the person that I am talking to tells me that they were baptised.  When I hear that my heart sinks a little because the fact is is that we weren’t baptised, we are baptised.  It is something that we carry with us, it changes us, we are not the same person after we have experienced it. We join the countless millions of people who have gone before us, and it leads us right back to Christ .

Jesus’s baptism marked the beginning of his ministry here on earth. Up until that time, he had not performed any miracles, but with God's stamp of approval and with the spirit of God upon him, Jesus began to do just that, perform great miracles. From this new beginning, many people began to understand that Jesus was truly the Son of God and they began to follow him. It all started with a baptism.

I understand that these are big footsteps to follow, there are none bigger but in our own little way we are called to copy that with our baptism. All of who  are baptised are given a new beginning, a chance to be all that we can be because of that fundamental shift when we are baptised. Rowan Williams said that, “As baptised people we are in the business of building bridges”, and this is what we are all called to do. Building bridges between our neighbours, whether that is in the town that we live, within our country or around the world, as a member of the family of Christ we are called to build community, to think of others and to do what we can to bring a little glimpse of heaven down here in the here and now. I am sure that most us would agree that we could all do with a little more of that in our lives and in the world around us.

So I would urge you, whenever you come into church, as well as looking right to see the altars, we should also be looking left, seeing the font, remembering to ourselves that the journey that God calls us to may have started before we realised it did and that we are to do what we can to build bridges, just as our saviour and so many others did before us.

Amen

Mark Nelson, Assistant Curate