Rev. Andrew Cunnington
29th September 2013
Therefore With Angels and Archangels…? (Sung Eucharist Sermon)

Have you ever been in a fight? Only once can I say this has been true to me.

There was a boy at school whose name was Christopher Pretty and because of his name he was the continual butt of jokes. “Pretty ugly” “Pretty useless” “Pretty stupid” and the like. Shaped like Billy Bunter and hailing from the worst of Worthing’s Council estates, Christopher Pretty was on a hiding to nothing. He was a sort of friend of mine but even I couldn’t resist belittling him from time to time. We had a playground joke we played on him once. I engaged Christopher Pretty in conversation, whilst an accomplice crouched down behind him , and then I pushed Pretty in the stomach, so that he fell back over the crouched person, to sprawl haplessly on the ground.

Normally Pretty would just get up and dust himself down and carry on, but on this day I remember how he turned on me enraged and came at me like a bull in a china shop, fists flailing and the rest. “Bundle! Bundle! Cried the rest of the school, leaving their games on one side and crowding round to witness the unlikely contest of Pretty versus Cunnington. But when we saw the crowd we had drawn and their encouragement that we should belt the living daylights out of each other, we stopped dead “Sorry Chris, out of order” I said and he burst into tears.

The school started to boo and slow hand clap so that the masters in the staff room began to look out “Couldn’t punch their way out of a plastic bag” someone jeered “hand bags at dawn with them two”, but then the whistle went for the end of playtime and all was forgotten, except not by me, I recall to this day how quickly something can happen so that it spirals out of control and violence and anger stake their claim swiftly in our lives.

Tonight the stained glass windows of our church are blackened out by nightfall , but have you ever looked at them as two sides of a battle, squaring up with each other. At the west end, the story of the birth of Jesus and a tiny Christ child being presented to the world by his mother , surrounded by all the characters of the Christmas story, most notably, a great throng of angels.

Then at the east end, the story of the death of Jesus told in lots of little stained glad panels with his crucified figure taking centre place. Not so many angels at that end, but lots of scheming individuals all playing their part in his eventual downfall on Calvary and then us , the people of the church, caught in the middle, like a collection of troops, to whom the question is posed, on whose side are you, and more deeply , from the things you do and say and think, whose side do you appear to be on in the eyes of the word and to the heart of God.

Line up behind the angels in the west window to testify to the glory possible in any new birth and as far as Christ is concerned the possibility of the redemption of the world in this miracle of his particular birth.. and live your life under the banner of that promise.

Line up behind the sundry collection of people in the east window to testify to the power of violence and death, a teamwork that can annialate goodness and judge everyone including God himself as wanting.

I am always worried when people say to me they are starting to read the bible and I ask them what book they are reading and they say “Revelation”, because when we go to these pages which sound as if they have been torn from a third rate science fiction novel, we need to beware how we use what we find here.

The point behind this reading is simply, do you recognise that there is a battle going on between God and evil and if you do, where do you stand. In which window of the church might your face be found?

The imagery is of a war in heaven, the battle drawn because of the corrupt presence of Satan there and of Satan being, not so much cast down as in our translation tonight , but more likely “hurled upon the earth” and that down here on this mortal coil, the final scenes of the en counter would be carried out. The victory of the angels is assured, but for a short time havoc will be wreecked.

For me this language is deeply symbolic, but it points an underlying truth, which I for one cannot deny. There is a spiritual battle to wage and if we don’t attend to it we can find ourselves unwittingly on the wrong side of the battle lines. The battle is between believing there is always life always hope always love, and we take our queue from the incarnation in the west window for that, or always a struggle, always death, always despair, in which case our face finds itself fitting in the east.

Deep in the heart of every Eucharistic prayer there is a battle cry and you know it well.

“Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name evermore praising thee”. We nail our colours to the mast of goodness and resolve to work for the victory of life over death.

This is the challenge to us on this strange somewhat mystical feast day – where do you stand on that which has been hurled down upon the earth, where is the wreckage of its falling doing damage to our lives, how shall we side with the angels announcing peace through the coming of Jesus, how will we look beyond the cross to the resurrection.

What I love most about the east window in the church is that there is one little panel which shows the shattering of the tomb and the arrival of Easter Day. It’s as if someone has already got behind enemy lines and that goodness and truth is already taking shape at the heart of despair.

Maybe that’s precisely where the angles of today are to find themselves, maybe that’s where our calling is, maybe that’s where the feast of Michael and All Angles delivers itself from a flight of fancy to the very heart of Gospel proclamation. Daring to fly behind enemy lines in the cause of peace and not be afraid of the battle to see that it shall be so.

REV 12: 7-12 MATT 18:1-10