This article first appeared in the September issue of the Anglican Journal as one of two reflections on the gift of angels.
On New Year’s Eve, Glenda Rowlands (not her real name) found herself on the edge of a bridge. Her boyfriend had declared their relationship over and she had slid into despair. “This is it,” she said. She uttered a prayer of desperation, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.She felt someone touch her arm.
Glenda opened her eyes. Beside her was a misty figure. She heard the faint words, “Go home.” Then the mist vanished.
Later, Glenda said, “I wasn’t afraid. In fact, I felt peaceful. I turned around and went home. When I got into bed that night, for the first time in my life, I believed someone was out there looking after me.”
John Henry Newman, the renowned nineteenth-century theologian, described angels as “our fellow servants who watch over us and defend even the most undeserving of us all.” That night, Glenda Rowlands experienced what might have been an angel.
The Christian scriptures, with over 300 references, call angels divine messengers. Abraham and Sarah had numerous visits from angels. Jacob saw them in dreams. The Hebrew people were guided by a heavenly host as they wandered through the desert. Ezekiel saw the throne of God like a chariot of fire surrounded by angels. Daniel was saved by an angel when he was thrown to the lions. Gabriel announced our Lord’s birth to Mary, and an angel announced Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Some angels are named in scripture. Michael the Archangel fought victoriously against the power of evil during a war in heaven. Raphael is depicted as the angel of healing and Uriel as the angel of transforming energy. Since at least the fifth century, the Christian church has celebrated the feast of St. Michael and All Angels to acknowledge the great mystery of the heavenly host.
Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Angels often come in the form of inexplicable insights or powerful intuitions.”
Many of us know that God comes at unexpected moments and in different ways, and since ancient times one of those ways has been through visions and visits of angels.
Scripture claims that angels are entirely real, quite natural to human experience, and one of God’s unique ways of speaking to humanity. Should we, as people of faith, be surprised at such mystical experiences when we know that the God of the scriptures has never been confined to any one way of communicating with God’s people?
The Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13 verse 2, says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
And so, with all the complexities that this subject raises—with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we give thanks for their presence among us.
THE REV. CANON DR. JUDY ROIS is executive director, Anglican Foundation of Canada, and adjunct faculty, Trinity College, Toronto,
Editor’s note: A correction has been made to this story.