Angels: fit for battle.
‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. Ephesians 6:10-18
Years ago a friend of mine, who is ordained, went into a bookshop. Following directions he went to the area where books on religion and spirituality were placed. Moving just a little further on he noticed works on the occult; suddenly he was overcome with a terrible feeling of sickness, and an urge to throw up, so much so that he left the shop with great urgency. Outside, he immediately felt better; what was there, hovering around those books, that made its evil presence felt in such an intensely physical manner?
The quote I included in yesterday’s reflection showed angels with swords. I almost edited that little bit out; after all, it’s just how the writer perceives angels in that passage. Yet we need to remember that the spiritual realm is a battle ground. We don’t want to give the enemy, Satan, ‘airtime’, but we need to acknowledge that he exists. Unseen, but very real.
Covid 19 is only unseen to us because the virus is microscopic, but oh, how real it is to us all. It seems appropriate then, to talk about battling an unseen enemy, and Pope Francis puts it this way:
‘In these days of great anxiety and hardship, many have used war-like metaphors to refer to the pandemic we are experiencing. If the struggle against COVID-19 is a war, then you are truly an invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches; an army whose only weapons are solidarity, hope, and community spirit, all revitalizing at a time when no one can save themselves alone.’
Every day, as Christians, we are involved in another battle, and Paul lists what we require to be effective as the Body of Christ. Paul is writing from prison; he and everyone around him see soldiers every day, so the Ephesians would realise, as we possibly would not, that apart from the short-bladed sword, all are defensive weapons. We arm ourselves to be prepared to defend, because Christian life does not centre on spiritual warfare in an aggressive or offensive sense.
So what about angels? Our perception is that they are often present in a supportive, comforting role. That is not the whole picture. Consider the story of Adam and Eve chucked out of the garden; when they had left, the Lord ‘stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden, and he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.’ Genesis 3:24
Or consider these verses in Chronicles: Here we have King David offering a sacrifice to God; ‘And when David prayed, the Lord answered him by sending fire from heaven to burn up the offering on the altar. Then the Lord spoke to the angel, who put the sword back into its sheath.’ 1Chronicles 21: 26b, 27
Ours is not a call to carry fiery swords, but we need to be prepared, to be alert, whatever the unseen enemy we have to face. And we are never, ever, asked to do it in our own strength. God bless you and those you love and pray for, and give you peace.