As a boy, I sang in the men and boys’ choir at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Baltimore, Maryland. Since he was our patron, his festival day, September 29th (or the following Sunday) was always a big occasion with special music and a big luncheon after the main service. Naturally his stained glass representation in full armor, backed by a legion of angel warriors, and with a shield bearing the motto “Who is like the Lord?”, made a big impression on me.
When I taught the Confirmation class as chaplain of the Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, I asked the 9th and 10th grade students to think of a modern Christian “Saint”, and describe that person. I had hoped for a description of Martin Luther King or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but instead, the students described a little old lady sitting on her porch rocking chair reading her bible.
Many people today, especially our children and youth, think of angels and saints as a bunch of wimps. Angels are fluffy feminine things with white wings and long golden hair or children’s cherubic faces with wings instead of ears. Saints are folks from past generations quaintly depicted in stained glass or stylized stone figurines. What a shame! Forget Batman and Superman! Forget Wonder Woman and Spiderman! Saints and angels are the true super heroes of the galaxy!
Angels are the personification of the most powerful forces that exist and impinge upon our lives. In Psalm 104, storm winds and flames of fire are described as angels of God, his messengers and servants. Michael is the general of God’s Army who defeats Satan and his angels in battle and expels them from heaven down to earth. Gabriel sounds the trumpet signaling judgment day when destruction will come to the whole earth and all human works. Raphael embodies God’s healing power and so forth. In the New Testament, it is angels who break off the chains of St. Peter in prison, who roll the great stone from Christ’s tomb and proclaim his resurrection, who startle poor shepherds in the fields and send them off to search for a newborn child who will change history.
As for Saints, have you seen the Episcopal publication “Holy Women, Holy Men”, our church’s “canonized” list of saints and their special deeds and days? Or have you ever looked at the calendar in the front of the new prayer book? The 2007 edition lists such people as Polycarp, the courageous Bishop of Smyrna, martyred in 156, Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170, Latimer and Ridley, martyred in 1559 and Jonathan Daniels, Civil Rights martyr in 1965. Brave and brilliant women are not forgotten such as St. Agnes, Roman martyr in 304, Monica, mother of St. Augustine, 387, Hildegard of Bingen, 1179, Dame Julian of Norwich, 1417, Queen Emma of Hawaii, 1885, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Liberators of Slaves. Mother Teresa, recently canonized by Rome, will, I am sure, soon be added to our Anglican list. Some “saints” we remember are famous, like John Donne, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Patrick and Francis. Others are obscure like Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, Bishop of Shanghai. All were imperfect humans, who by God’s grace let their lives and deeds count for something good and strong, something that we and our children should be taught to emulate. “All of them Saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one too!”, in the words of Hymn 293. So when your kids or grandchildren talk of the latest “superhero” film, ask them if they know anything about an Archangel or tell them about a real person who we remember for being one of God’s heroes, a Saint. And remember all of the above on September 29th, St. Michael and All Angels day and November 1st, All Saints’ Day!
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer