A thing or two about Angels
Many years ago, I was told a story about the saintly Bishop King of Lincoln. He never forgot that Ordination laid upon him the ministry of pastoral care. Though, as a bishop he led a busy life, he would love to visit people. One such person, whom he visited every week was an old lady who lived in a remote part of a wood. He also visited prisoners in the local gaol and one day, he was talking to one of them who confessed that he once lay in wait in the woodland with the intention of robbing the bishop. “You normally travelled alone” said the man, “but on this occasion you had someone with you.” The bishop was perplexed for he had always gone alone but then he beamed, “Ah! that would be my guardian angel.”
And he meant it!
The role of angels as ‘guardians’ of human beings is rooted in Scripture. In Matthew 18: 10 Jesus speaks of the angels watching over God’s ‘little ones’. In Psalm 91 we are told “He will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.” and in the beautiful service of Compline (the late night prayer service of the Church) is the invocation:
The angels of God guard us through the night, and quieten the powers of darkness.’
The role of angels taking care of us may seem fanciful to many but I point sceptics to that moment when Jesus had been tempted by the devil. After a gruelling forty day fast, our Lord was weakened and it took all his strength to resist the devil. When the devil left him, St. Matthew tells us: suddenly angels came and waited on him. They were there all along!
Why that doesn’t surprise me is that I have experienced the ministry of angels often in my life. For example, over the past two or so years I have spent a lot of time in hospital. On one occasion I was feeling scared and apprehensive about some treatment I was about to have. I was in a room on my own and as I tried to pray, I sensed an overwhelming presence of someone else there with me in a corner of the room. I just knew that an angelic presence was quietly but most definitely watching over me. This was not a product of my imagination. It made all the difference to how I was and how I faced things. I was not alone but more importantly, the angel’s message was that I was being held and loved.
There is a sense that we never really walk alone in this world. God is always watching over us. Sometimes, when we are up against it and we feel that we really cannot carry on much longer, something happens that lifts the burden a little. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is respite from the storm that rages around and within us. We are not on our own any more.
I know people love that story about ‘Footprints’ in the sand where the two sets of prints become one and when the man meets Jesus he castigates him for leaving him. Jesus replies that he never left him. The single prints were when Jesus was carrying him.
We don’t always appreciate how much God ministers to us and we are prone to believe he is absent during some particularly difficult period of our life. I dare say Jesus felt that sometimes —as we know from his cry on the Cross—my God, why have you forsaken me! But Jesus knew the truth. The humanity of Jesus cried out but the divine heart knew that His Father was always near him. I know that God never really abandons me though I am often conscious that I have often abandoned him!
So why do I need a Guardian Angel? I suppose the easy answer might be that I find it a comfort. The real answer is because God chooses this as a way to care for me (and you) and that’s what the Bible tells me.
I just know its true – and my guardian angel agrees with me!
Psalm 103: 21-22
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Version is that of the NRSV
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org