Angels: Messengers? Metaphors? Or Moments for Mission?

A Wellington blog by The Rev Tom Moffat

Are we embarrassed by angels?  Does the very mention of the word make us reach for rationality (whatever that is)?  Do we try to ‘explain them away’?

Well, the Bible is not embarrassed.  Angels everywhere. One of the curious things about angels in the Bible is that they are a bit like corporation buses…… you wait for ages and then lots arrive together.  Have you noticed that?  If there’s a big event in the offing they are there – the Call of Abraham; the Resurrection of Jesus; in the life of the early church, guiding Philip, encouraging Peter, etc. etc….and of course, those who feature  in our Advent packs –  the Advent Angels, who appeared to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds and to Zechariah.

Angels from the Wellie Advent Pack – photo by the Ashcroft family.

Perhaps we may be embarrassed by angels, but the Bible isn’t and neither is the entertainment industry – far from it.

From 1938 (“Angels with Dirty Faces” with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart) to 2020 (“Good Omens” with David Tennant and Michael Sheen) there is scarcely a year without some mention of angels.

And who could forget Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life”?    Clarence is an AS2 (Angel, Second Class) who has yet to gain his wings after 200 years. He does so this time by persuading George Bailey (James Stewart) not to throw himself off the bridge into the turbulent waters below, but to look back on his life and  see all the good he has done for others.

No embarrassment in sculpture either.  For example: the  angel overlooking Paisley Road West and Govan Road; the angel holding up the fallen young man on the war memorial at Bearsden Cross; St Michael at Coventry Cathedral and, one of my favourites, Anthony Gormley’s “The Angel of the North” on the A1 motorway just south of Newcastle.  The list goes on…. as it does also in painting.  The earliest known painting of an angel in Christian art is from the middle of the 3rd century and is in the catacomb of St Priscilla in Rome.  And guess what – no wings.  Perhaps angels don’t actually need wings?

Wings or no wings, our culture is replete with angels.

Where would the popular music world be without them?  Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Abba; and Robbie Williams, whose signature song is “Angels”:

 “I sit and wait
Does an angel contemplate my fate
And do they know
The places where we go
When we’re grey and old
‘Cause I have been told
That salvation lets their wings unfold.”

I find the story of Balaam and his donkey most interesting.  (See Numbers Ch. 22).  Three times an angel stands in the way of Balaam, trying to deflect him from his intentions, “because your path is a reckless one before me” says God.  On each occasion, only the donkey sees the angel and moves to the side, while Balaam assumes the donkey is just being stubborn.

Perhaps if we don’t look out for angels we won’t see them?

Christina and I once met an angel.   It was in the year of our Lord 2006. At the time of our encounter our angel was cunningly disguised as a porter, standing at the entrance to Union station in Toronto. Now, one of the things about the station, apart from its impressive pillared entrance, is that its pedestrianised concourse fans out for some considerable distance from the entrance. We arrived at the taxi drop-off point somewhat flustered and anxious because we had been delayed, and the station entrance was still a brisk walk away.  The train we were to catch was the only one that day which would accept the amount of luggage we had.  Tension?  What tension?

Toronto Union Station (source: Wikipedia)

As the porter caught sight of us in the distance, we saw his hand rise up, rising like an angel’s wing, and we mirrored his with ours.  He came, took charge of our ticket vouchers and all our anxieties – which were many – and took us through the busy station by ways less travelled, unknown to ordinary mortals. Soon, via the staff lift, we were down to the platform and on our train before anyone else… and away to Montreal to continue our travels.   Touched by an angel.

Watch out, there are angels about… and could one of them be you?

One thought on “Angels: Messengers? Metaphors? Or Moments for Mission?

  1. Many years ago I heard the response to the question “do you believe………”from the redoubtable Prof,Joad. Everyone expected a dismissive comment but the thoughtful reply pointed out that the meaning of ‘Angel’ is a ‘messanger’ for whom we should be ready no matter in what guise it appears.

    Grace Martin


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