The Feast of the Apparition of St. Michael was Tuesday, May 8. I came across this obscure feast as I prayed in preparation for opening Manna House. In my morning prayer book, I read about St. Michael the Archangel, “St. Michael’s weapons were truth, humility, and love, and with these he vanquished the devil.” Sitting in the Manna House kitchen listening to the coffee percolate, I got to thinking about angels and spiritual warfare in relation to offering hospitality.
We have a special relationship with angels as Manna House. They come to us every morning we are open. We stand on the biblical promise, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). We know Abraham and Sarah entertained angels disguised as strangers (Genesis 18). We even know Jesus comes among us in our guests as he promised, “Whatever you do unto the least of these you do unto me” (See Matthew 25:31-46).
There are lots of stories about angels in the Bible. Angels are usually messengers from God. They say interesting things, like telling Mary she’s pregnant with Jesus even though she has not had sex with Joseph.
But in the Book of Revelation angels are not so much fun. They appear as warriors. Michael the archangel is portrayed as a warrior against the devil (Revelation 12:7 and you can also check out Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:13-19). Angels are the soldiers in spiritual warfare.
Hospitality and spiritual warfare—how are the two connected? Manna House has been open thirteen years. There is a deep joy in this work as the angelic guests share their lives with us. These angels evangelize us as we hear their amazing stories of resilience, of continuing to hope and to cope in the midst of poverty, illness, loss of family members and friends. They are truly messengers from God.
But the angels also bring messages that reveal evil deep within our society. The power of sin is death, and death is a way of life in our nation. As Dr. James Cone pointed out in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” the purpose of both the cross and the lynching tree “was to strike terror in the subject community.” Evil uses terror to threaten or impose death. Death is the major weapon evil uses in spiritual warfare. Evil is not reducible to individual human decisions and actions; it is systemic, seductive, slippery, and sophisticated. And to resist that evil, to struggle against it, requires that we be spiritually grounded and socially engaged.
The power of evil uses homelessness to kill other human beings and to strike terror in our hearts. Homelessness is a death sentence. Over 100 guests have died since we opened thirteen years ago. Two more have died just in the past month, Demarco Woods and Carolyn Bates. Homelessness enforces our tenuous place in this ultra-competitive and individualistic society. Our souls quake, because we know homelessness is the tip of the iceberg called “poverty.” And none of us, except perhaps the very wealthy, are immune from the possibility of poverty.
This is how spiritual warfare wages around us. The powers that be try to discipline us by our fear of falling into poverty and homelessness. We are encouraged to hate the bodies of our brothers and sisters on the streets (in Memphis, mostly black bodies) because they represent our deepest anxieties and fears about living in a society in which we are all expendable. Much of that hatred is an attempt to cast them further from us. The seductive promise is made, “You can be safe if ‘the homeless’ are regarded as a different kind of being to whom we owe nothing but our disdain. They, like immigrants, are “animals.”
Hospitality enters this spiritual warfare as hospitality rejects this terror and the fears it tries to put into our lives. Hospitality rejects the crucifixion of the poor. Hospitality affirms our shared humanity. In “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” James Cone does not just name the power of evil to kill. He also names the power of God to bring new life, to create and sustain human flourishing. Cone wrote, “God took the evil of the cross and lynching tree and transformed them both into the triumphant beauty of the divine.” That transformation requires repentance and resistance grounded in faith in resurrection. As Angela Davis said, “We know that the road to freedom has always been stalked by death.” And St. Paul wrote, “I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6).
This is the resistance as we wield the spiritual weapon of hospitality against the power of evil. We come to listen to the stories. We come to stand in solidarity. We come to welcome people by name. We come to offer a cup of coffee, a shower, and a change of clothes. We come to entertain angels, and to learn from the warrior angels how God’s resurrection power takes on the power of death. And in this spiritual warfare in which we fight with the weapon of hospitality we remember that, “St. Michael’s weapons were truth, humility, and love, and with these he vanquished the devil.”