I recently had my film developed from our trip overseas. Many of the pictures were taken in cathedrals in Germany and the Netherlands. As I was examining them I noticed that one picture that I took in a Cathedral in Antwerp appeared a bit strange. The picture was that of one of the transepts that included a stained glass window. But, much to my surprise there is an angelic figure, draped in purple, that appears to be an angel.
I don’t remember, when I took the picture, seeing a figure in the upper left hand corner. The figure is big as life and it appears to be suspended in mid air. Could this be an angel? Where did it come from? What does it mean?
Angels are frequently referred to throughout the Bible including the New Testament. We all remember that the angels appeared to the shepherds when Jesus was born. They also appeared to Joseph on three different occasions. Each time they gave him directions about how he was to protect Jesus and the Holy family. Here in Matthew an angel first tells Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt, to escape the wrath of Herod. After Herod dies, another angel tells Joseph to go to Israel and he and his family finally settles in Nazareth.
Every time there is danger or an important decision was to be made an angel appeared to Joseph to give him instructions. God appears to use angels as God’s agents of protection and wisdom. When the angels appeared to the shepherds they proclaimed the good news but they also gave the shepherds assurance. They told them that they had nothing to fear.
Angels are God’s messengers who give us assurance. They are manifestations of the presence of God. Joseph believed in them because he responded to their instructions. It was clearly an act of faith.
Angels may be from the heavens or they may be in human form as well. Tony Campolo tells the story about the late Mike Yaconelli, who told the story about a deacon in his church who wasn’t deaking. He just didn’t do what he was supposed to do as a deacon.
One day Yaconelli said to the deacon, “I have a group of young people who go to the old folks home and put on a worship service once a month. Would you drive them to the old folks home?” The deacon agreed. The first Sunday at the old folks home, the deacon was in the back with his arms folded as the kids were doing their thing up front. All of a sudden, someone was tugging at his arm. He looked down, and here was this old man in a wheelchair. He took hold of the old man’s hand and the old man held his hand all during the service. The next month that was repeated. The man in the wheelchair came and held the hand of the deacon. The next month, the next month, and the next month.
Then the old man wasn’t there. The deacon inquired and he was told, “Oh, he’s down the hall, right hand side, third door. He’s dying. He’s unconscious, but if you want to go down and pray over his body that’s all right.” The deacon went and there were tubes and wires hanging out all over the place. The deacon took the man’s hand and prayed that God would receive the man, that God would bring this man from this life into the next and give him eternal blessings. As soon as he finished the prayer, the old man squeezed the deacon’s hand and the deacon knew that he had been heard. He was so moved by this that tears began to run down his cheeks.
He stumbled out of the room and as he did so he bumped into a woman. She said, “He’s been waiting for you. He said that he didn’t want to die until he had the chance to hold the hand of Jesus one more time.” The deacon was amazed at this. He said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, my father would say that once a month Jesus came to this place. ‘He would take my hand and he would hold my hand for a whole hour. I don’t want to die until I have the chance to hold the hand of Jesus one more time.’” (from Homiletics, December, 2004)
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God can work through anyone. Whenever there is love, God is present. God is always with us. Perhaps the angelic being in my picture was there to remind me of the presence of God as I stood on foreign ground. Not only was I in an foreign land, I was in a Roman Catholic Cathedral. I wasn’t afraid, but I was in awe of how the church has withstood the test of time.
The existence of angels is not something that can be logically proven. Like God, they are often invisible. Certainly they must be real because they appeared at crucial moments in the life and story of Jesus. They also can be seen in countless paintings over the centuries. They are also commonly sculpted in thousands of buildings in the world. And people of faith have maintained them as part of religious culture since the beginning of time.
Writers, singers and poets have made them a frequent dimension in their songs, their stories and their poems. Charles Dickens used angels to appear to Ebineezer Scrooge. In Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life, an angel named Clarence appears to George Baily, played by Jimmy Stewart. In each case an angel makes a difference as the two men are transformed. Their lives become filled with hope and love because of the angels who confront them.
Whenever we are enlightened we can be assured that in some way an angel of God has touched us. Whenever we feel safe and assured we can be comforted by the fact that some angel is watching over us. Whenever we are confronted with our hopelessness or sinful ways some angel has intervened in our lives to get us back on the right path.