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You and What Army? The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels

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“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

I recently shared a meme on Facebook. Its heading read: “When people say, ‘you and what army?’” The picture showed an artist’s rendering of a host of angels looking down on earth from heaven. It’s a good reminder of the invisible dimension of God’s creation that we humans, so caught up in the day-to-day circumstances of life in the visible dimension of creation, can easily forget or underappreciate.

Today is the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels. St. Michael, whose name means “Who is like God” is the archangel mentioned in the Book of Daniel (12:1), as well as in Jude (v. 9), and Revelation (12:7). Tradition names Michael as the patron and protector of the Church, especially as the protector of Christians at the hour of death.

In our Old Testament reading, Daniel portrays Michael as the angelic helper of Israel who leads the battle against the forces of evil. In our Second Reading from Revelation, Michael and his angels fight against and defeat Satan and the evil angels, driving them from heaven. Their victory is made possible by Christ’s own victory over Satan in His death and resurrection, a victory announced at Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God by the voice in heaven: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (12:10).

Which brings to mind an important question, similar to the one posed in the Facebook meme: You and what army? St. Michael’s host or the army of Christian martyrs? What army actually gets the victory over Satan, the Dragon? There’s no doubt that a decisive victory has been won, but it seems two different groups have been involved in winning the “war in heaven.”

In the dimension of heaven, St. Michael summons all his angels to fight against the Dragon and his demonic hordes. Revelation 12 states it plainly: Michael the Archangel wins convincingly, and the Dragon—who is Satan the Accuser of humanity and grand insurgent of all that is good, holy, and true—is humiliatingly defeated. This devastating loss comes with a stinging consequence: Satan can no longer accuse God’s people before the throne of God. He is thrown down to the earth, ejected from heaven altogether, banished from the dimension where God rules in holiness and uncontested power.

So, let me restate for clarity: our one reality has two dimensions: heaven—the invisible dimension of our reality, and earth—the visible dimension of our reality. In heaven a decisive battle took place and St. Michael and his army of angels soundly defeated Satan and his angels and cast them down to the earth.

But wait a minute—the song of victory which follows this great event gives credit for the victory not to Michael and the heavenly hosts, but to God’s people on earth. It gives credit for the victory to the visible Church of God. “They conquered him,” says the loud voice from heaven, “and they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). In other words, Christ’s blood atonement, His propitiation of sins, and the Word of the Gospel, which is confessed in the mouths of the martyrs, that is what crushes Satan’s dominion, powers, and efforts. That is how the Church, the communion of saints, the holy Christian Church in which we experience life, gets the victory.

So who was it ? What army actually defeated the Dragon? Was it St. Michael’s, or was it the holy martyrs of the Church, those saints we name, remember, and celebrate throughout the year—like Stephen, James, and Polycarp? What army?

In a sense it was both. The heavenly reality of the victorious battle is umbilically joined to the earthly reality of the martyr’s deaths. This continuity between heaven and earth, this cooperation or participation between the heavenly hosts and the saints on earth, but also the departed martyrs, plays itself out in our liturgy when we sing during Holy Communion, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You.” In other words, heaven and earth have an adjoining union, an interlocking, interpenetrating union. This is reality as we experience and rightly know it even now.

Now, as followers of the Lamb—those true disciples whose allegiance to Christ is with reckless abandon, even of life and limb, so devoted to the King are those martyrs—they own the truth. They have already been saved by His blood. They have been baptized into His death and resurrection. Therefore, His self-giving unto death and resulting resurrection life is the pattern which they follow themselves. That is what wins the battle. It is a cruciform battle already complete and total in heaven where Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who sits on the throne and who exacted the expulsion of Satan at the hand of St. Michael; but it is also a battle engaged even now where heaven touches earth in and through the Church.

This is in no place on earth more definitive than where the blood of the Lamb avails and where the crimson stain of the martyrs proclaims victory in Christ than the Table of the Lord. Here is a visible place where heaven touches earth. Here Christ reigns victorious in the Gospel testimony of the martyrs, the good news of His victory for all who believe—both Jew and Gentile.

Our enemies are defeated. Heaven itself is an abiding witness of the victory of Christ. St. Michael and All Angels, including guardian angels, are abiding witnesses of Christ’s victory. The martyrs of the holy Church whom we remember, venerate, and emulate are abiding witnesses to the victory of Christ. Take courage. Be mindful of their witness and presence, their voices and testimony, in the Word of God, the church calendar, and at Holy Communion. The victory is won. The outcome is certain. Christ is victorious. St. Michael is our patron of victory.

The victory, again, is not like an election victory or a defeat of the rivals of our favorite sports team. No, this victory is over a deadly and vicious enemy bent on the destruction of humanity, destroying human beings, and murdering souls—the Dragon who is the Accuser.

The early Church learned to see this supernatural “accusing” activity standing not far behind all the “accusations” leveled against them. Accusations alone can have the power and import of destroying reputations, wrecking families, and ruining lives. In the early Church, such accusations included both the informal ones, whispered by their critical neighbors, wondering why these people were not joining in the usual pagan festivals, especially the imperial cultic religion, and the more formal ones accusations and charges, brought by the authorities, and carrying an official penalty, often death.

And this is the thing to remember—accusations are poised and purposed to a particular end: judgment, condemnation, conviction, and punishment. That is the point of an accusation, to make publicly the culpability and guilt of the accused and thus to also make public—at least theoretically—a just judgment and punishment. So, the Christians endured all kinds of accusations as slander and lies were told about the early Church: infanticide, cannibalism, incest, atheism, etc.

The Christians learned to see them for what they were: accusations from “the father of lies,” and they combatted them with two things: the defensive and offensive power of the truth and a willingness to suffer and even die for the truth, where Jesus Christ Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Once again John is positioning his hearers on the map of the great cosmic drama. This includes you and me. They, and we, are to know and celebrate the great victory which has already been won. The Accuser has no place any more in heaven, because the death of Jesus has nullified the charges which the celestial prosecutor would otherwise bring. For all those in Christ Jesus there is full justification by God’s grace through faith. Christ has suffered and died on our behalf. Jesus has repented and merited perfect righteousness for us. He is our scapegoat, our salvation, our vindication, and our holiness.

But this vile accuser will do his best, in the time remaining, to attack the woman—the image of the Virgin Mary but also the Holy Church—who has fled into the wilderness, even though, as in Exodus 19:4, God has given her eagles’ wings so she can fly away. In the history of redemption this happened when Jesus’ mother Mary, led by her husband Joseph, guardian of our Lord, retreated into Egypt while Herod the Great murdered the children of the surrounding region of Bethlehem. And then, the holy Church is taken into the wilderness, that is, outside of the auspices of Imperial Rome or any other temporal government, where it is protected and shaded by the wings of Christ our King.

What follows is a series of symbolic snapshots which advance the drama, not with literal descriptions of events, but using Old Testament imagery that is packed with meaning and significance. The Dragon spits out a jet of water like a river to carry the woman off. The earth opens its mouth to swallow up the river. The woman escapes and the Dragon, angry, turns his attention elsewhere—precisely to the woman’s “children,” further defined as, “those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, once again, you too are part of this drama.

The Accuser turns his wrath on the Church—but not to the departed saints in heaven (he has permanently lost that battle). The saints in heaven are impervious to his schemes. Departed saints, as well as angels and archangels, do nothing but bask in the ultimate victory of Christ Jesus and the army of St. Michael. No, Satan has been cast down to earth with aspirations to disrupt, where and when possible, the Kingdom of God.

So, do not be surprised when the Dragon is out to get you with more of his foul but powerful accusations, spat out like a flood, to condemn you for your sins, guilt, regrets, and shame. He will accuse you with the mouths of others and through the influences of our society—where any and every other name but Christ’s will claim you and own you and destroy you.

But remember, recall the testimony of the martyrs. Hear the good news of St. Michael: Christ has conquered by His blood, and the Kingdom of God and His will shall, in fact, be done on earth as it is in heaven. Trust that the God of creation and the victorious, resurrected and reigning King will look after you.

Take courage! This is what the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels is about. Take courage because we stand with all the company of heaven and the great cloud of witnesses, the noble company of martyrs strong, declaring the Gospel testimony: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ shall come again!

There is no accusation that stands against you! You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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