3rd October 2019
How do you imagine angels? Here’s a reading from the Book of Acts…
At that time King Herod caused terrible suffering for some members of the church. He ordered soldiers to cut off the head of James, the brother of John. When Herod saw that this pleased the Jewish people, he had Peter arrested. He put Peter in jail and ordered four squads of soldiers to guard him. Herod planned to put him on trial in public after the festival.
While Peter was being kept in jail, the church never stopped praying to God for him. The night before Peter was to be put on trial, he was asleep and bound by two chains. A soldier was guarding him on each side, and two other soldiers were guarding the entrance to the jail. Suddenly an angel from the Lord appeared, and light flashed around in the cell. The angel poked Peter in the side and woke him up. Then he said, “Quick! Get up!”
The chains fell off his hands, and the angel said, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” Peter did what he was told. Then the angel said, “Now put on your coat and follow me.” Peter left with the angel, but he thought everything was only a dream. They went past the two groups of soldiers, and when they came to the iron gate to the city, it opened by itself. They went out and were going along the street, when all at once the angel disappeared.
Peter now realized what had happened, and he said, “I am certain that the Lord sent his angel to rescue me from Herod and from everything the Jewish leaders planned to do to me.” From Acts 12
I wonder how you imagine the angel who rescued Peter? There’s something mysterious and wonderful about him – the way he just appears, the light, the chains falling off, the gate opening by itself, and then the angel disappearing again.
So he might have been some sort of heavenly being. But there is another possibility. Maybe this was a different sort of angel. Someone who had access to the prison, and to the keys – someone who could come in without question, and bring a light with him, and organise for the city gate to be opened, and then slip away when Peter was free.
If this second version was the case, it’s interesting to ask – would God have been any less involved? This person would have somehow found out about Peter’s situation, and felt the call to do something to help, despite the dangers, and amazingly it all went smoothly. The guards didn’t stop them and they got Peter out OK. That still sounds pretty miraculous to me.
We don’t know which version is true. But maybe the idea of ‘ordinary angels’ might be helpful for us. I have a bit of thing about not all angels having wings and halos. The Bible doesn’t often mention wings or flying – an angel is often simply a messenger – a servant of God. All those paintings and stained glass windows lead us off track.
If we think angels are just these sort of amazing heavenly beings, we may miss the everyday ways that God is at work in the world and in our lives. The bible talks about people who welcome others into their homes ‘entertaining angels unawares’. If we want to see angels we can start by reflecting on our lives, and noticing the people that God has used to speak to us or help us, and the ways that God has used us.
On Tuesday a few of us gathered for Prayer Breakfast, and a couple of students shared concerns about going into a lecture that day, in circumstances that weren’t easy, so we prayed about this. Just after we had finished praying, a friend of one of the students came in and asked if she was coming to the lecture with her. I told her that she was an answer to prayer. She was being an angel – passing on a message that God is with us even when we are afraid, in a very real human way.
I think maybe there’s a lot of angelic activity around the Chaplaincy – lots of ways that God is communicating his love and offering real support through the conversations and relationships which happen here. Maybe there are people who have been angels to us in some way. Maybe there are times when we have acted as angels for others – passing on a message which was somehow given to us, just at the right time – or feeling God’s love reaching out through us to someone else in a particular way.
Think back over the last few days… Has there been anyone who has shown you God’s love, or shared a message from God with you in some way?
Lord, we thank you for the people who have brought us messages from you, and acted out your love for us. Help us to notice and rejoice in these ordinary angels….
Has there been a time when you can remember God using you to be an angel to someone else, through what you have said and done?
Lord, may we open to your Spirit guiding us – use us as your angels, your messengers, the bearers of your love… and thank you for the ways you have already worked through us…
There are people around us who are in some way imprisoned – by circumstances, or fear, or sadness, or by themselves.
Lord, we pray for those who long for freedom… Use us to bring the light of hope to them, and help them to find ways out into a better life….