Sermon at the Sung Eucharist of St Michael and All Angels 2019
Why are we all here?
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster
Sunday, 29th September 2019 at 11.15 AM
Why are we all here? Why are you here? I suppose there may be many different answers.
I think I know why I’m here. I’m the Dean and it’s my job. Rather like the story of the man who wouldn’t get out of bed on a Sunday morning. And his mother kept knocking on his bedroom door and ended up shouting, ‘You’ve got to get up!’ And the man said, ‘Why?’ And she said, ‘They’re expecting you in the cathedral. You’re the Bishop.’
There are others of us here for whom it’s their job: the organists and lay vicars and vergers, the marshals and beadles. For the choristers it’s not a job but an education, though they too are working for us all here. For many of us the job is really a vocation, something we are very committed to, a life-time’s commitment.
So, that’s us, some of the people here much of the time. How about you?
Some of you often join us for acts of worship on Sundays and weekdays, for one of the 28 services we hold each week. But perhaps you are not amongst those people; you may never have been here before. Perhaps you’re on holiday, visiting from overseas, or have come to London for something else. Or perhaps you thought it would be interesting, possibly even fascinating to come here. You may have seen it on television and decided to come to the Abbey and see what it’s really like.
Whatever your motive, whether you’re a regular worshipper here or in another church somewhere in the world, or whether you have never been a regular worshipper and find it all quite strange, you are every one of you very welcome. I am glad you’re here. It is ultimately almighty God who welcomes you here.
But what are we here for?
At the basic level, we are here to sing hymns and to listen to wonderful music and to listen to readings from the Bible and to pray and to celebrate what we may call the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion or the Eucharist or the Mass and to receive the bread and wine which are the Body and Blood of Christ.
We sing hymns because that makes us more cheerful, makes us feel better, certainly if the hymns are familiar and the tunes are good. We pray because we are asking God for particular things: for peace in the world, for a good harvest, for someone who is sick to get better, for people we love who have died. Or we may say to ourselves that this is the only moment of sanity in a mad, mad world and that it restores a balance in our lives.
In some way, that’s all about us. And I don’t think we should see it like that. It’s not so much about what we can get but what we can offer, what we can give.
Today’s great feast celebrates the archangels and angels of God who worship God night and day.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah had a vision of heaven and described it in his book. ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.’ The great angels, the seraphim, and the little angels, the cherubim, were recognising the holiness of God and praising him.
The author of the Revelation, St John the Divine, had visions of heaven as well. ‘After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’
The angels join in the eternal worship of almighty God. But some of them have more to do. They come with messages. The angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. That was Gabriel, the great messenger of God. And there are other angels that bring messages to us, and holy guardian angels that watch over us and protect us.
And in the second reading, we heard of Michael the greatest of the archangels, who fought the power of evil. Christian tradition speaks of a fourth archangel, the great bearer of light, in Latin Lucifer, who, not satisfied with doing the will of God and worshipping God day and night, over-reached himself. He thought he could be as great as God himself.
In Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote of the ambition of Lucifer and his failure. He fell from grace. Thus he lost his glorious name as the bearer of light and became known as the devil or Satan.
He trusted to have equalled the most high,
If he opposed; and with ambitious aim
Against the throne and monarchy of God
Raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
Lucifer turned aside from God, refused to worship him or to do his will, challenged God and sought to rise as high as him. From this we deduce that the archangels and angels who worship and do the will of almighty God are not like robots or automata, who cannot resist the power of God, but more like human beings with parts and passions. Their obedience is willing and free, an example to us mere mortals.
The heart of our vocation as human beings, like the angels, is to worship almighty God and to praise him, and worshipping and praising God, we find our true place and purpose in the created order and to do what he calls us to do. We can turn to God and honour him and worship him and obey him, or we can ignore him and turn from him and plough our own furrow and feather our own nest. The choice is ours. Worship, honour and obey, or reject, ignore, honour money or goods or this world’s ways. Our choice.
So, why are we here? The only true way, the only way to happiness and contentment in this world, and the next, is to worship God and honour him and to do his will. That is what we do this morning.