Michaelmas. The feast day for St Michael is September 29th. The timing of my ordination first as a deacon and then to the Order of Presbyters, along with those training for ordained ministry through the Scottish Episcopal Institute.
Of course, this year, every person in those same transitions, and entry into the life and work of the church throughout the British Isles is being ordained at Michaelmas.
As such its importance in the calendar has grown for me. Its associated with beginnings, and endings in my ministry. It is also at a ‘hinge’ in the liturgical and seasonal year where we begin to think about Christmas – Christmas eve is only three months away – and as we enter harvest, we have the end of the growing season.
At my priesting last year, Bishop Mark spoke about the differences between being ordained at Petertide with that of Michaelmas. Those ordained earlier in the year were, in his mind, to be likened to an everyman for every person. They had to be all things to all people. This has been an incredibly traditional view of clergy – that they must be able to be the sort of person that every person they meet needs to see or talk to.
I agree that adaptation to different scenarios is important, but the request of being an every-man or every-person can be too great a burden for some.
Michaelmas is, on the other hand, about the work that angels do for God. Celebrating the work that angels do isn’t exactly well received in Protestant traditions and certainly not by Presbyterians either. A summary of our readings shows that St Michael has four main responsibilities:
- To combat Satan
- To escort the faithful to heaven at the hour of their death
- To be a champion of all Christians, and the Church itself
- To call men from life on Earth to their heavenly judgement.
St Michael, one of the archangels, is mentioned in the book of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation. And that’s it.
I am very grateful that I am not called to be an everyman to every person as I would find that very difficult, particularly as I am not a man. But I do think the need for adaptation, flexibility and allowance for spontaneity are very important for every clergy person regardless of hierarchy. The ability to be actively present in every situation that calls for it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The ability to adapt, be flexible and adopt new practices is by the grace of God. Whether one is ordained at Petertide or Michaelmas, the call is the same. To become more Christlike, serving God by the grace of God.
We have missed this year the opportunity to renew our baptismal vows, where we, paraphrased: ‘combat Satan’:
- Where we turn to Christ, turning from evil, repenting of sin. Where we actively say together: “I renounce evil; I repent of sin; I turn to Christ; I will follow Christ.”
- Where I ask you all if you will proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people? And your answer is “With the help of God, I will.”
To serve God by the grace of God. The Holy Spirit is not going to make an appearance where rules are adhered to at the detriment of human relationships. Loving each other, [and keeping no lists of perceived slights].
In our readings from Genesis and John, we are told that angels ascend to heaven and descend from heaven. I see this as a route of pilgrimage, and help.
Heaven was part of the dome that covered the Earth. It featured in the mythology of many different religions in the Ancient Near East. The book of Genesis as we know was written after the first five, if not nine books of what we know as the Old Testament, and was written to place the Jewish faith and people with that of their God. Heaven has always been ‘up there,’ with an opposite ‘down there;’ – the theologies of which I am not going to enter into today.
Angels may be superior in intellect, have the capacity to praise God, and ascend to heaven as well as descend. But I put it to you that through Jesus’ resurrection, we also not only have the capacity to praise God, we can also find the presence of God, and sit with him awhile. Conversely, we can also choose to leave his presence, choose to turn our back on everything that God offers us, given freely and willingly by His grace. Yet, in our baptismal vows, we choose to follow Christ. Our route of pilgrimage is to ascend to where God is – yet he is so often not where we think he ought to be.
God is out there in the turmoil, the agony and anguish of those who have lost family and friends, he is in the absent hugs, in the lack of laughter from grandchildren and grandparents who might have sat at the dinner table on a Sunday. He’s in the queue with you, in the muttering and exasperation. And he is in our fumbled attempts of adaptation, flexibility and spontaneity as we try to adopt new practices to enable us to gather in our church buildings and worship once again under the same roof.
So with the guidance of St Michael and all the angels, let us remind ourselves of our baptismal vows, and keep loving and championing one other through the stresses of strange viruses, and the way in which our leaders feel we should move forward.