Thursday, September 28, 2006

a thin place at the altar

Notes for a sermon on The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels
September 28, 2006 5:45 p.m., Trinity Cathedral Sacramento
Genesis 28:10-17, Psalm 103 or 103:19-22, Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:47-51

GENESIS: Jacob’s ladder represents a thin place – a boundary point between the material world and the world of the spirit. Indeed, Jacob declares the place of his dreamtime a sacred site: “none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven”.

Angels – God’s messengers – ascend and descend upon the ladder, bridging heaven and earth. Angels who are aligned with God’s purposes are his messengers.

But like other created things, angels can be good and fallen and redeemed. Angels may also be described as principalities and powers – the spirits of institutions and of peoples. They are “the powers that be” (as Walter Wink calls them) – made by God, called by God to a purpose. The spirit of a nation is made for good, but it may turn away; many first century Christians and Jews experienced the empire of Rome as demonic.

REVELATION: Michael overthrows the adversary – the angels that are obedient to God’s call confront the angels that have misaligned themselves apart from God’s purpose. They are defeated; there is no strength in them. Eventually God will put all powers in subjection under his Christ, will rightly align them in harmony with Christ.

GOSPEL: As Jesus tells Nathanael, the guile-less true son of Israel (Jacob), the Son of Man himself forms the bridge – the thin place, the boundary point -- where the sacred and the ordinary coincide. Christ accomplishes this through the victory of the Cross: through his obedience, and through his sacrifice. And we encounter him; we will know him, in the breaking of the bread.

“The small round piece of Eucharistic bread is the point from which the whole creation emerges….‘The fires at the center of the earth, the sun above, all the divine essences and ecstasies come to this silence at last – a circle of bread, and a cup of wine on an altar.’

When we look at the bread of the Eucharist we are looking at the point of ‘everything that is made’ – God embracing everything that God has made.”

On this still, small, point is the turning of the world: created, redeemed, and made holy by God.

As we prepare to remember our Lord in the breaking of the bread, may the better angels of our nature, summon us to gather as God’s people, called together for his purpose. AMEN.

Walter Wink, The Powers That Be (Doubleday, 1998)
Donald Nicholl, The Testing of Hearts (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1998)
Timothy J. Joyce, Celtic Christianity (Orbis, 1998)
Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

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