St. Michael, the Holy Angels, and the Struggle Against Evil

by Bill Carroll

“The Lord spoke to Daniel in a vision and said, ‘At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.'”  (Daniel 12:1-3)

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.


I begin with this ancient prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, because these Old Testament verses from Daniel are one of the few places in Scripture to name him.  Michael appears in the Book of Daniel as the angel (or messenger) of God whose divine service consists especially in being the appointed Protector of God’s People, Israel.  In the New Testament, he appears in the Book of Revelation and Letter of Jude, and he comes to be considered a healer, as well as the warrior-leader of the heavenly hosts.


Many of us harbor doubts about St. Michael and the Holy Angels, as well as Satan and the powers of evil.  Some of these doubts may come from taking the mythology overly literally.  Imagining Satan with horns and a tail is no more justified than imagining God as a grandfatherly old man in the sky.  It has no more reality than the blasphemous fantasy that some of us seem to have of hell as an everlasting torture chamber for our enemies, rather than the possibility of our own, firmly chosen rejection of God’s love.


There are spiritual forces of wickedness at work in the world today:  racism, xenophobia, hatred, division, violence, and despair, to name a few.  All of them are stronger than we are–or at least stronger than any us acting alone. But none is more powerful than GOD.  And so, while I’m not too particular about the wings or the sword, I have a devotion to St. Michael and the Holy Angels.  They are ministering spirits, sent from the throne of God to help us in our struggles.  And they watch over God’s People (and over all people, everywhere), especially in times of exile, social dislocation, and war.  With them, by power of God, we can work together to overcome the powers of evil.


A more serious objection to St. Michael and the Holy Angels has to do with their role as intermediaries.  We have direct access to the living God.  God’s Holy Spirit fills our hearts with love.  We feast on the Body and Blood of God’s Son, who lives in us.  God is closer to us than the air we breathe.  God is the innermost source of all that we are, the boundless goodness at the root of who we are.


All of this is true enough, but the immediate presence of God does not exclude God’s presence to us by means of our fellow creatures.  God is present throughout creation and in every human being, especially those who are poor, excluded, or suffering.  All God’s creatures are a kind of sacrament, meant to be gifts from God that speak to us of God’s mercy and lead us back to God.  With the rest of God’s creatures, the saints and the Holy Angels are a way God reaches out to us in love.  And the angels, in particular, speak to us of God as our powerful defender–mighty in battle and fiercely opposed to the Enemy of our human nature.  That’s why in Holy Baptism we reject Satan and the other evil powers that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.  Baptism invites us to renounce these powers and embrace God’s amazing love for us all.


The thirteenth chapter of Mark, the so-called little apocalypse, is all about the destruction of the Temple, and the Second Coming of Christ.  It appeals more to the Left Behind crowd than it does to many of us.  But, as with other difficult portions of Scripture, just because we don’t necessarily take it literally doesn’t mean we needn’t take it seriously.


Apocalyptic literature plays a necessary role within the broader sweep of our sacred story.  The Apocalyptic increases the tensions we see between the way the world is and the way it might be.  It is deliberatively imaginative and symbolic literature which is meant to provide hope to people in historical moments of upheaval and change.  And so, Jesus tells us not to be alarmed.  Don’t be afraid he, tells us, these things are but the beginning of the end.  They are the labor pains of God’s New World.  They are the predictable reaction of the powers that be to Jesus and his love.  They may be painful, but they are temporary.  For GOD is on the throne.


In the sermon he preached at his installation as our Presiding Bishop, Bishop Curry read from that other great biblical Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation.  As he’s done elsewhere, Bishop Curry spoke powerfully on the themes of evangelism and racial reconciliation.  He spoke to us about joining the Jesus Movement and helping transform the nightmare of the world as we have made it into God’s Dream.


As I’m sure Bishop Curry was aware, nearly fifty years ago, another prophetic preacher had spoken about Jesus and God’s Dream from that very same pulpit.  The installation occurred at the National Cathedral, the church where Martin Luther King preached his final Sunday sermon. King preached at the National Cathedral on Sunday, March 31, 1968–just four days before he died a martyr’s death in Memphis. On that day he said;
We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent the explosions are, I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.”  We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  We shall overcome because Carlyle is right—”No lie can live forever.”  We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right—”Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.”  We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right—as we were singing earlier today,

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future.
And behind the dim unknown stands God,
Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.  Thank God for John, who centuries ago out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos caught vision of a new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, who heard a voice saying, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.”  God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the [children] of God will shout for joy. 

We are the Jesus Movement.  And, by the grace of God, we can change the world.  As we do so, many of our old certainties must die, as we risk great things for God.  As we do so, we will hear of wars and rumors of war.  We will encounter opposition and difficulties.  We will experience the birthpangs of the New Creation.  And so, as we do so, we must remember that God is on the throne–that God’s truth reigns from the scaffold–that Jesus, the slain Lamb, has conquered and lives and reigns as King.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.



The Rev. Canon Bill Carroll serves as Canon for Clergy Transitions and Congregational Life in the Diocese of Oklahoma.   He has served as a parish priest in Oklahoma, as a parish priest and college chaplain in Southern Ohio, and as a member of a seminary faculty.   In 2005, he earned his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School.


image: Angel with the Flaming Sword, Franz von Stuck



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