• Do We Still Believe in Angels?

    Q:

    Do Lutherans/Episcopalians believe in Angels? I don’t hear them talked about very often, but personally I find the idea of these “other beings” existing, in a sphere that we can’t see, at the very least intriguing.

    A:

    angel

    Altarpiece of San Barnaba (detail). Sandro Botticelli, 1488.

    Pr./Fr. Nathaniel: Thanks for your question! I’ll be honest, this is a tough one — in seminary I can’t think of a whole lot that we learned about angels. But two things do quickly come to mind:

    First, the Greek “angelos” means “messenger.” In Scripture, angels are often messengers —bringing God’s word to those who need to hear it.

    Second, angels are frequently telling people, “Do not be afraid.” It seems they are a sight to behold, and folks are in need of this sort of reassurance. Or perhaps God speaks most often to those who are overwhelmed and in need of grace, those who are afraid being visited by a heavenly being and assured that they don’t need to be afraid any longer.

    But what about angels today? Do we believe in such supernatural creatures? I really liked your thoughts about finding such an idea, at the very least, intriguing. To entertain such an idea is very much to buy into the “mystery” that we Lutherans and Episcopalians seem to talk so much about. The mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Or the paschal mystery: that with ordinary bread and wine and with God’s word we have a heavenly banquet of Christ’s body and blood. Those are mysteries that are not easily explained. And so too, with angels, I also find it intriguing and perhaps comforting that there are heavenly beings around us and perhaps watching over us. Many people feel that our understanding of the world must be rational and scientifically explainable with empirical evidence. Generally, I think most of us find ourselves in that camp, most of the time. But a world with such limits doesn’t sound like that much fun, does it? And if we believe in a God that is mysterious, beyond our full knowing, and capable of the resurrection, I suppose that God is able to send angels into our midst, too.

    Perhaps it’s surprising, given his rational, Germanic upbringing, but Martin Luther spoke a good deal about angels. In the Small Catechism, Luther commends the following prayer to be said before bed. I think it’s a fitting prayer for all of us as we seek God’s protection in this life and into the life to come:

    I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today. I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously to protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.

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