One of the most quoted lines of Hamlet is, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Act I, V). Hamlet is ruminating about a ghost and it’s debated if he really sees one or is feigning madness. But through the centuries, it has rang true that the things we can see make up a very small part of reality. Consider that for the past year and half the world has gone mad over a virus that is so small 500 million of them could fit on a pin (https://microbiologysociety.org/why-microbiology-matters/what-is-microbiology/viruses). Of course, this is apropos of angels since the supposed debate about the number of angels that could fit on a pin is a way to criticize scholastic theology. By the way, that number was said to be 1 million not 500 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_many_angels_can_dance_on_the_head_of_a_pin%3F).
We find what Horatio could only dream actually expressed in Scripture. Cherubim with a flaming sword was placed to keep fallen man out of Eden. Cherubim decorate the veil of the Holy of Holies, and 2 cherubim statues 15 feet tall stood guard inside, and 2 were on top of the Mercy Seat. We find Ezekiel describing them in chapter 1 and naming them in chapter 10. They are described as 4 living beings filled with eyes even as Rev. 4 describes 4 living creatures round God’s throne in heaven. Read Ezekiel 1 and Rev. 4. Think of living creatures filled with eyes, and think “Here there be dragons.” It’s not old maps that had that notation for unexplored areas. In fact, only one 16th century globe does (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/no-old-maps-actually-say-here-be-dragons/282267/). Our Scriptures have beings every bit as powerful and fantastical as dragons, as superheroes. Here there be angels.
Not just Cherubim. Read Is. 6. Isaiah sees seraphim. “I saw the Lord! He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the temple was filled with His glory. Hovering about Him were mighty, 6-winged angels of fire. With 2 of their wings they covered their faces, with 2 others they covered their feet, and with 2 they flew.” Read Gen. 28. They’re you’ll see angels ascending and descending between heaven and earth on Jacob’s Ladder. Or go to your NT. You’ll find the angel Gabriel announcing the pregnancy of John and the incarnation of Christ. Suddenly, with the shepherds, you’ll see and hear “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.”
More than Horatio ever dreamt is not only expressed in Scripture but confessed in the Faith. It only dates to the 400’s but we have document called The Celestial Hierarchy. It describes 3 ranks of 3 angels each. They are named and ordered: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, and Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The last 2 named have the most to do with men, although others are named in Scripture and as we heard in the Hallelujahs today, sung about in hymns. Lutherans specifically have taught their children for almost 5 hundred years to pray morning and night to the Heavenly Father “Let Thy holy angel be with me that they evil have no power over me.” Horatio may have dreamt of angels; we and our children live with them. We’ve taught our kids they may play Transformers, superheroes, wizards, and make believe. They confess a guardian angel day and night who according to Matthew 18 always beholds the face of the Father. Wherever they go their guardian angel goes and since he’s always looking to the Father, he is always doing His will.
We confess to believe in angels in the Nicene Creed when we say God the Father is Maker “of all things visible and invisible.” We sang of them in the Processional Hymn, “watchful is the angel band/ That follows Christ on every hand/ To guard His people where they go/ And break the counsel of the Foe” (TLH 254:7). We sang the 9 ranks in The Hallelujahs: “Bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,/ Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!/ Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,/ Virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs,” (TLH 475:1). We chanted of them in the Introit: “Praise the Lord, you His angels, you mighty ones who do His bidding, who obey His word. Praise the Lord, all His heavenly hosts, you His servants who do His will” (Ps. 103:20-21). And we chanted of them in the Gradual: “For He will command His angels concerning thee to guard thee in all thy ways” (Ps. 91:11). And every Sunday in the Proper Preface we confess that in the Communion we unite “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” to “laud and magnify” the glorious name of our God. Today something is fashionable if it’s trending on respectable social media. Well the Proper Preface is found in nearly every ancient liturgy. It’s been trending for about 2 millennia.
C.S. Lewis saw what Horatio couldn’t dream: He said that what men call empty space is "the packed reality of Heaven” teaming with creatures visible to God and to the Faith. He went on to say that humans couldn’t even dream of “how many degrees the stair [steps] even of created being rises above them” (That Hideous Strength, 320, 327). A 20th century Swedish Lutheran bishop saw in the Faith what Horatio couldn’t’ see in his dreams. “But the wall is of crystal and the church without a roof, and the angels of heaven ascend and descend. They bow before the chalice; they cover their faces. They say, 'Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord'" (Hammer of God, 28). You wonder at the promises of science; the power of technology, the predictions of science fiction. The Faith confesses the reality going on around the Body and Blood of God in the space and time where we live.
Yes, we not only have what Horatio couldn’t even dream of expressed in Scripture and confessed in the Faith, we live them in our life. We wonder with the OT Church about the jaw-dropping reality of Jacob’s Ladder. There is a connection between heaven and earth through the angels of God. Then in John 1, the Man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, but begotten of the Father in eternity, tells you Jacob really dreamed of Him. He’s the Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. Knock me down with a feather, right? Wherever Jesus is in our life, to the extent Jesus is in our life, to that extent we have the ministry of supernatural, super-powerful, super-amazing angels.
Go through His story, which is really yours, again. He goes through the Great Temptation by the Devil alone without the aid of angels. He, in your flesh and blood, uses only what your flesh and blood has, and is tempted just as you are, yet does not sin. Only after coming out victorious in that 40-day trial do the angels come and minister to Him. He did that in your place for you, so that you may never doubt that when you’re faced with temptation no matter how intense, ugly, enticing, compelling, you do not face it alone. Your guardian angel is there for Jesus’ sake. Go to the beginning of the Passion, and see it’s so difficult that God in flesh and blood needs to be strengthened by an angel to go through the hell your sin and sinfulness deserve. And know that He does this by choice of His Father according to His will. God loves you that much. So much that although Jesus says to His disciples that He could call on His Father and have 72,000 angels at His disposal (Mt. 26:53), He didn’t call for rescue. Why? 1) To pay all suffering and hell that was due for the sins of the world. 2) So you could know that God has no shortage of angels to minister to those in Christ.
The angels love to be where Jesus is. 1 Peter 1:12 says the angels are bent over, looking down wondering about the things of Jesus. Read Mat. 28:4, the angel expresses a sigh of relief, maybe triumph, that he at least gets to tell the grieving women that Jesus has risen: “There I have told you.” Angels apart from Jesus are demons, evil spirits, unclean spirits, Satan’s minions, so we don’t seek angels apart from Jesus but where Jesus is. Perhaps the Eastern Rite of Conformation is better. It doesn’t just ask the confirmand to renounce Satan. It adds “and all his Angels” (Life of the World, 71).
We know for sure Jesus is where He promises to meet us. He doesn’t promise to meet you in dreams, in visions, in your thoughts, reasonings, or hopes. He does promise to meet you in your Baptism. As sure as you been marked by the crucified and joined to Him in Baptism, so sure do angels hover about you. He promises to meet you in the forgiveness of your sins. So when you’re absolved by me, by another, by the Lord’s Prayer, it is not wrong to hear the Hallelujah chorus. After all Jesus Himself tells us the angels in heaven rejoice over even one sinner repenting? And all the company of heaven not just angels and archangels, not just those departed in Christ, but Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, and Principalities are all with us before the Body and Blood of Jesus on this altar. Talk about needing to scrunch up at the Communion rail!
Horatio couldn’t dream of all that heaven could do on earth, but we can because we read about it in the Bible. Do you think God recorded Elisha being protected by angelic horses and chariots in 2 Kings 6 as a one off? O He could/would do that for Elisha but not for the likes of you Baptized into, Bodied and Blooded to, and Absolved by Jesus! Yes, He records Peter being chained in prison, 2 guards inside the cell, 2 outside, and an angel freeing him easily (Acts 12) as a one off too. So, you might as well tell your kids that Spiderman, Superman, or a Transformer did that. And tell your teens that a smartphone, social media, or an Apple app did it. Yes, make them more in awe of the atom bomb that killed 80,000 instantly to deliver the U.S from war than of the one angel who killed 185,000 Assyrians in one night to deliver the Church of God (2 Kings 19). Tell them the secular humanist manifesto of 1973 which is now America’s Civil religion is right: “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”
Wrong. The days of angelic protection, deliverance, and accompaniment aren’t over for good. Because these days, our days, the people of God’s days, have been redeemed, blessed, and are guarded for Jesus’ sake. As the Lord attends to your spiritual needs by means of physical things that touch and interact with your body, so He attends to your physical needs by means of spiritual beings interacting with your body and soul. This is way beyond what Horatio ever dreamt. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels’ Sunday (20210926); Psalm 103:20-21