Canon Alan Amos OBE, now retired from his ministry in theological education, hospital chaplaincy and parochial life, holds PTO in the diocese and has taken on several roles as a locum priest. He lives part of the year in Saint Julien in Genevois and worships at Holy Trinity Geneva. Alan draws here on the biblical readings for Michaelmas, Genesis 28.10-17 and John 1.47-end.
Fifty years ago, I was made deacon at a Michaelmas ordination, and I treasure particularly the collect for the day, with its reference to angels and human beings being joined in a common endeavour of ministry :
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order: grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven, so, at your command, they may help and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
I particularly like the sense of ‘overlap’ between angels and human beings; it reminds me of Rublev’s wonderful Trinity icon, which picks up on the three strangers visiting Abraham, who then get transformed into angels, sprouting iconic wings, and thence into representing the communion of the Holy Trinity.
This story, and this icon, begins from the hospitality of Abraham, linking into the divine hospitality which welcomes us into communion.
That prompts me to ask, ‘are there ways in which our worship is angelic?’ By which I certainly do not mean self-consciously precious! Rather, does worship really provide ‘a transport of delight’, a ladder of sorts between earth and heaven ? Certainly the Sursum Corda welcomes us into the fellowship of angels and archangels worshipping the Lord of all holiness.
As a choir member at Holy Trinity in Geneva, I find myself often uplifted by the music which we prepare and sing, and thankful for the wonderful tradition of Anglican choral music which draws, of course, on the musical riches of the universal church.
But then back to earth. And to some other words of worship, from the Book of Common Prayer : ‘and here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves , our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this Holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction.’ And we pray that this our offering may be accepted ‘not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences.’ The beauty of the language of this prayer is used to emphasise that we worship as a corporate body ‘all we who are partakers’ – and that we are not to be deterred from worship by our lack of worthiness. The invitation to worship is insistent, even compelling; we are not to be left outside the web of worship suspended between earth and heaven, but to find our own place in it.
Angels are messengers, and so if we really are to be part of this divinely constituted order which includes us humans with them, we have to be bearers of the message, not in word only, but in apostolic action.
There are many examples in our diocese of how this action is carried forward, often with ecumenical partners. I just leave you with a couple which I am learning about and which seem very necessary in our times, first there is action to engage with and support refugees, where the Chaplaincy in Athens and more recently in Calais have played a leading role. I am also aware how on a smaller scale, the priest and people of La Cote, our sister church in Switzerland, have been deeply committed to this work.
Then there is Stephen Ministry, see: https://www.stephenministries.org/stephenministry/default.cfm/917?mnbsm=1
Named after Stephen the first martyr and proto-deacon, this is a ministry of caring and accompaniment for those who are going through major crises in life. Several of our English-speaking churches in Geneva, who participate in our Geneva ecumenical Cursillo, have members who have received training in this ministry. I wonder if you have come across Stephen ministry, or your church community shares in it?
Sometimes, in my ministry as a hospital chaplain, a patient would say ‘Chaplain, could you be an angel…’ and I never knew quite what request would follow. Retrieving one patient’s dentures was the least of my angelic tasks!