This past Monday, September 29th [in 2014], after the gate to the backyard was opened, we gathered with our guests as we do each morning, to pray. On that day, as I led the prayer, I announced that it was the Feast of Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. When I came across this fact during my morning prayer I had not been all that thrilled. Archangels seem like a mythological hangover lurking around the edges of Christian faith. Angels are a little bit too sappy for my taste, like the old TV program, “Touched by an Angel,” or that movie with John Travolta, “Michael.”
But then I remembered Hebrews 13:2 that I now shared with our guests, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares.” Maybe I just needed to focus on the presence of God’s messengers in those who come to Manna House. (The Hebrew word for angel is mal`ach, and the Greek word is angelos; both words mean “messenger”).
So I invited all of us present to turn to our neighbor and say, “Good morning Angel!” There was much laughter as we all considered the outside possibility that some whom we welcomed were angels, messengers of God.
I was pleased with my theological recognition that the Bible holds together angels and hospitality. Abraham and Sarah welcomed visitors who were angels (Genesis 18). The same angels found Lot to be hospitable, but the people of Sodom to be utter failures when it came to hospitality (Genesis 19, Ezekial 16:49). Mary had an angelic visitor, namely Gabriel, giving her the news that she was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). Mary was quite hospitable, given the surprising news Gabriel gave in that visit.
I was also pleased that one of the readings on this Feast Day gives an ancient and poetic depiction of angels in the Book of Revelation, the same angels who we welcome in the practice of hospitality. In Revelation, these angels are crucial in spiritual warfare. “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated… And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…..” (Revelation 12:7-9).
After this battle is over “a loud voice” is heard “saying, ‘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 and sisters has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God’” (Revelation 12:10-12).
Angels acting on the authority of Jesus Christ throw out the prosecutor who would condemn us on Judgment Day. Given that angels are those we welcome when we offer hospitality, the very angels to whom we offer hospitality are the ones who throw out the D.A. (District Accuser a.k.a. Satan). Michael and the others angels, to whom we offer hospitality, are our Public Defenders advocating for us on Judgment Day.
Hospitality and throwing out D.A.’s, that kind of angel theology appealed to me. No sap and sentimentality there.
But, later this same morning, I was called into the house. A volunteer told me a guest who had just arrived wanted to see me. I was not particularly happy to hear this. Almost always this means the guest wants a special favor, and he was told “no” by another volunteer. So he’s appealing to a higher authority, me. And now I have to say “no” again. I was certainly not thinking my high theological thoughts about guests as angels as I approached him. I brusquely said to him, “Stephen, what do you want?”
He replied, “I don’t want anything.”
“Then why do you want to see me?”
“I have something for you.” And he handed me a little red purse, smaller than a post-it note.
Now Stephen is quite mentally ill, and my compassion started to come back, albeit a bit paternalistically.
“Thank you Stephen. This is very nice.”
“No, you idiot,” he said, “Open it!”
I undid the little metal snap on the purse. Inside there was a thin piece of cardboard. I began to pull it out. I saw a tiny golden angel lapel pin attached to it and the words, “This is your guardian angel who will watch over you all your days.”
My knees grew weak. I could feel tears in my eyes.
“Thank you Stephen. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“O yes I do,” he replied, and with that he turned and left the house.My years of theological training had about dried up inside of me any belief in angels. I could talk theological talk about angels and hospitality and D.A.’s, but in this moment my talk was silenced. I simply had to accept the mystery of God and God’s angels. I had been touched by an angel.