29th September 2021

Let me wish you a Happy Michaelmas, for today is the festival of St Michael and All Angels, no less. The Encyclopaedia Britannica – yes, it still exists – reports that during the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was a regarded as a great religious feast with its own popular traditions, one of which was the custom of eating goose, supposedly with the power to protect against financial need for the next year. (To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if that still applies today, or whether it also covers petrol shortages.)

Angels in scripture were essentially heavenly messengers or ambassadors, conveying God’s decrees and guidance to the human world – think the Archangel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her she’s to become the mother of Jesus. Thanks to all those classical pictures, we tend to imagine angels as solemn, dignified figures in nighties, but when it comes to Michael, he’s found dressed in shining armour brandishing a sword and shield because he’s a warrior angel, not some ‘Whitehall Civil Service mandarin’ type! By the way, when the Bible talks of ‘the heavenly host’, it doesn’t just mean lots of angels; a host is technically an army. Which might explain why the shepherds above Bethlehem were so terrified when the angel choir struck up the Gloria – they were also in full battle gear. God clearly meant both peace and business with the earth!

Somewhere along the line, Field Marshall Michael became chief of all branches of angel, and today they get their collective dues. Which just reminds us of our calling to be God’s earthbound ambassadors and peacekeepers.

Ken Stewart