I remember a television show called “Touched by an Angel.” Della Reese played a senior angel who mentored and assisted a younger angel portrayed by Roma Downey. They went around the country finding things that were wrong and helping those involved to make things right. The angels didn’t do the work; they indirectly and sometimes directly guided the troubled into a path that would lead to the restoration of wholeness. It was a good series, but one that I have a feeling wouldn’t fly today, if you pardon the pun. It seems we are busier looking for the opportunity to sin than for angels (unless you’re from Los Angeles!).
Today we commemorate Saint Michael and all Angels. That’s a pretty big cast of characters. All angels and archangels were considered to be messengers from God, although some Archangels are less well known than the big two, Michael and Gabriel.
Michael was considered the chief of the celestial armies, the fighter, the defender. Michael appears in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation. His name means “Who is like God?” He is also known as the patron of paramedics, soldiers, police officers, and security workers.
We also remember the Archangel Gabriel who is known as a messenger. The name Gabriel means “God is my champion.” Mary and Elizabeth had visitations from Gabriel who announced the impending births of exceptional children who would change the world. He appears in Daniel and Luke. Particular groups over which he has oversight are broadcasters, communications workers, postal workers, messengers, and 911 dispatchers.
The third Archangel is Rafael, who is mentioned only in the apocryphal book of Tobit. He appears disguised as a man who assists the young man Tobias on a quest. His name means “God heals.” Those who are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, travelers, shepherds, and matchmakers consider him to be their patron
The fourth Archangel is Uriel and is also mentioned in the Apocrypha, in the book called 4 Esdras. His name translates as “God is my light.” He alone of the four named archangels has only psychologists to call him their patron, but he is also known for being a keeper of light and wisdom, and so may be thought of as one who may whisper into the ears of those in discernment.
Some consider the total number of Archangels to be seven, representing the seven seals in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven was also sometimes set as representing a planet in the sky.
Angels appear throughout Scripture from the angel who blocked the gates of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from returning after they were cast out to the person/angel with whom Jacob wrestled. They also appear, sometimes disguised as humans, in various encounters with people at turning points in the lives of Israel and the Jewish people.
Angels come in ranks, which seems a bit strange since we believe that all of us are children of God and should practice equality. Still, like so many kingdoms on earth, heaven had ranks of various callings including archangels, angels, seraphim, cherubim, principalities, powers, etc. Each group has a particular duty, yet all gather around the throne and continually praise God. We’ve also heard them called the heavenly host, and we feature them at Christmas as they sang to the shepherds by praising God.
We don’t always think about angels these days, although it’s not uncommon for us to name someone who has been particularly kind or helpful as an angel. We use that title for nurses since they help to bring the gift of healing when we are ill and cannot assist ourselves. We sometimes call friends angels, when they to help us in times of joy and in times of sorrow. Best friends are many times considered angels because we feel close to them, trust them, and allow them to tell us things that we would not accept from other people. I know this because I have best friends, and they frequently tell me when I’m about to mess up royally. They tell me the truth, something I usually don’t want to hear but need to very badly. I consider them angels because they can advise me in ways that make me listen and take note but without making the advice seem adversarial. That in itself is a help and a very great blessing.
We see cherubs at Valentine’s Day. They are considered one of the ranks of heaven, but cherubs are not the plump baby angels with tiny wings and little bows and arrows. Cherubim guarded the gates of heaven. They are represented on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, spreading their wings toward each other as if in protection for the ark and God’s seat of mercy between them. They also are mentioned in Revelation.
There is so much that I could say about angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. Indeed, entire books are based on the topic and go into great detail with citations of locations in the Bible as well as references and their meanings. That’s not my purpose here. To me, it feels as if this day is made for me not to remember the mighty, the company of heaven, so much as the unknown angels in this world, those who work quietly and almost invisibly to help others and to advance the kingdom of God, no matter how hard and how dangerous that particular ministry is.
So, for today, I will thank God for those unnamed and unknown angels, as well as for those whom I consider angels, whether they are in heaven or still walking the face of the earth. They are essential, and I take up the challenge of remembering as well as looking to see and recognize these angels.
I hope you’ll join me in this particular quest.
Image: Blessed be the Host of the King of Heaven, Russian icon ca 1550, Anonymous, attributed to Athanasius. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and -retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.