Michaelmas is a strong reminder to us that we are spiritual creatures who belong to a spiritual community of angels and humans. In chapel this week we read the story of the Fall with the Junior School and the Grade 10s. That story underlies the great Michaelmas lesson read on Friday with the Grade 12s from Revelation about “war in heaven,” on the one hand, and about the victory of Christ over evil, on the other hand. We are reminded by both stories that evil is found in the self-contradiction of rational creatures, whether they be angels or human beings.
The serpent of the Genesis story has become “the dragon,” “that old serpent, called the devil and Satan which deceiveth the whole world.” These are key images that reach back to the serpent’s cunning question, “Did God say?” The question seeks to undermine the truth that is known. Sin and evil are about that contradiction and division within ourselves between what we know and what we do. We are made in the image of God and are called to act accordingly. But what happens if we don’t? We are rational creatures to whom God gives a commandment. But what happens if we disobey?
Both Genesis at the beginning of the Scriptures for both Jew and Christian and Revelation at the end of the Christian Scriptures show us that all evil is a negation and privative of the Good. It has no power in itself; it is always a distortion, a deception, a perversion. The various terms for what opposes the truth of God reveal this contradiction either in terms of Satan as the tempter, trying to insinuate and undermine the order and truth of things, or the deceiver, trying to trick us, or Lucifer, the light-bearer who denies his very being, turning away from the light of God to be the Prince of Darkness. Evil arises from the turning away of rational creatures from God, the source of all being and knowing.
The lesson from Revelation is especially powerful because it makes it abundantly clear that “there was war in heaven,” not there is and that evil has been radically overcome “by the blood of the Lamb,” a reference to Christ in his sacrifice and love for us. The strong reminder is that the Good is greater than all and every evil. What that means for us is to will that Good in our own lives as the counter to the sins and follies that so easily beset us. The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels signals the victory of Good over evil and reminds us of the company we keep, the company of “angels moving the imagination and strengthening the understanding,” as Aquinas puts it.
To think is to think with the angels who are the thoughts of God in creation. They are the invisible reasons for the visible things of the created order. Paradoxically, this reminder to us of the larger spiritual community of which we are a part “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” is not a denial or a flight from the concrete world of our embodied existences. To think with the angels is to affirm creation, our bodies, and our world, and not to be alienated from nature or our bodies through some sort of illusion or fantasy about ourselves.
The Genesis point is emphatic; creation is good in its parts and as a whole. Evil comes from us when we put ourselves at the centre and try to will a lie, a deceit. The angels belong to our Godward thinking and living; they above stairs and we below stairs, to use a quaint seventeenth century image, but dwellers all in the same house of prayer and praise.
It is in the company of angels that we are strengthened to be able to contemplate the nature of evil. The overcoming of evil “by the blood of the Lamb,” is an apt image for our reflection on truth and reconciliation for the Indigenous peoples of Canada. For these scriptural and philosophic teachings are very much about truth and reconciliation, about our being called to account both in terms of ourselves and with respect to the sad legacy of how the Indigenous peoples have been treated. To be reminded of the blood of the Lamb requires our commitment to the difficult and essential process of reconciliation which can only begin when we are open to the truth. It is our spiritual task, and it happens in the body of our humanity and especially in the body of Christ, the body of our humanity redeemed and restored. By the blood of the lamb we are called to reconciliation with one another in the concrete communities in which we are placed. It is a constant task.
It is not by accident that the fall term is known as Michaelmas term. Our intellectual and spiritual labours place us with the angels in attending to the good of one another. But such is the ethical demand of our intellectual and spiritual communities; in short, our School.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, Head of English & ToK teacher,
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy