St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits, who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen
Now before you start wondering, today is not the feast of St. Michael and all Angels. That feast is still two and half months away. But I wanted to begin today with a prayer for St. Michael’s assistance because the Scripture lessons we have just heard are in significant part about spiritual warfare. And according to the twelfth chapter of the Revelation to St. John the archangel Michael is our battlefield commander in our fight against the spiritual forces of wickedness that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.
The thrust of my message this morning may make some people a bit uncomfortable. In the first place this is the year 2007, and in our “scientific” age it is common for people to doubt the literal existence of demons. And secondly, I am sure all of us prefer to reflect on the Scriptures that focus on the love of God and peace for the faithful rather ones about combat against the forces of darkness. But our Lord Jesus clearly took the threat of the demonic seriously, and He confronted and vanquished that evil on a daily basis during his earthly ministry. And we have just heard that Christ gave His church “authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy”, so much so that even the demons of Hell were subject to early missionary teams in Christ’s name. So if you and I are going to be faithful to our own commission to spread the Gospel and serve the Lord as He desires, we cannot ignore His summons to battle as well as the call to share the Good News.
Virtually every culture in the ancient world accepted the existence of evil spirits. In the New Testament demons are referred to more than seventy times. They are most frequently referred to as daimonia, literally “little demons,” reminding us of their relative powerlessness before the awesome might of the God’s only-begotten Son. In the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles demons are often associated with physical illness, including blindness and symptoms that look very much like epilepsy to the modern reader. Even more frequently demonic possession is described in ways that strongly resemble what we would call “mental illness,” ranging from catatonia to self-destructive behavior to uncontrolled outbursts of violence. Jesus directly confronts demons that cause these physical and mental problems and He expels them by a word of command, just as He cures physical ailments that are not clearly demonic by His word and His saving touch. In fact, Biblical texts are often ambiguous as to whether or not a purely physical healing is being described or an exorcism of a demon. Notice that in today’s Gospel lesson, for example, that Jesus sends out the seventy missionaries with instructions to “cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” Yet when they return, the seventy do not speak expressly about physical healings but instead report, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" It seems likely that in the minds of our Lord Jesus and His disciples liberation from spiritual darkness and freedom from physical and mental illness went hand in hand. For they have a common source—the Fall.
According to an ancient Church Tradition recounted by St. Ephrem the Syrian in the fourth century A.D., immediately after God created Adam in His own “image and likeness” the first human being bowed in humble obedience to his Creator. The archangel Michael then turned to the other angels surrounding the throne of Glory and said, "Worship the image of the Lord God just as the Lord God has commanded." Satan (also known as Lucifer), one of the greatest of the angels, was outraged by this demand. "I do not have it within me to worship Adam," he replied, "I will not worship him who is lower and later than me. I am prior to that creature. Before he was made, I had already been made. He ought to worship me." In his anger Satan rebelled against the majesty of God and was cast out of Heaven along with a third of the angelic host who had joined him in his treason. According to Tradition, these fallen angels became the demons of Hell. Satan’s exile at the dawn of Man may be reflected in our Lord’s statement in the Gospel lesson today, “"I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”
Satan’s desire to deface the image and likeness of God borne by mankind prompted his temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and our First Parents tragically chose to betray the divine likeness they already possessed and joined in the demonic rebellion. The results of their Fall have been catastrophic for us, their children. We were meant to care for God’s world through a share of His own strength, yet we become weak and ill. We were intended to partake of the Source of Life and Light, yet we have inherited death and darkness. Satan and his minions have been highly effective in their wretched task. For millennia they have toyed with us before we return to the dust from which we came.
And it is not only the human race that suffers the effects of the Great Rebellion. St. Paul, in the eighth chapter of Romans, tells us “that the sufferings of this present time” are part of the subjection of the whole created order! “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,” the blessed apostle tells us, “but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” The whole Universe groans in bondage to decay.
The sending out of the seventy by Christ was therefore an act of cosmic significance--a key step in bringing the travail of creation to an end. For when those early missionaries healed infirmities through the power of God and cast out demons in the name of Christ, they were on the front lines of the battle to restore the whole of creation to the freedom God intended from the beginning. For a message of liberation was inseparably bond up with Christ’s healing power. “Cure the sick who are there,” our Lord instructs them, “and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” The reign of “the [unclean] spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” is ending and the sovereignty of God is made manifest in the Church’s message and work. The seventy were witnessing the dawn of “the new creation” that St. Paul tells us today “is everything!”
It is now, of course, our turn to take our place in the line of battle. You and I are heirs through faith, repentance, and the waters of baptism to Christ’s authority to tread over “all the powers of the enemy.” And we have the Lord’s promise that nothing will “hurt” us in this fight. This does not mean, however, that the battle will be easy, or that we will not be changed by spiritual combat. Indeed, we will be triumphant only if we are conformed to the divine image of the One who sent us. St. Paul, one of the greatest of the spiritual warriors fighting at our side, no doubt had this in mind when he said that he carried “the marks of Jesus branded on [his] body.” Let us not forget that you and I, like Paul, were sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever in our baptisms. And if we take up our crosses daily and follow after Christ that will leave a mark on our hearts, and minds, and souls as well. And if we are transformed by our Savior’s cross, when the spiritual forces of darkness see us coming, they will see Christ and His kingdom drawing near as well —and they will quake in fear and be subject to us in His holy Name. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." All that we may ever have and do is a gracious gift from our Lord.
Long ago Satan and his demonic cohort refused to bow to the image of God present in Adam. And the powers of Hell have done everything they can to keep the divine image in Man from shining forth in the world again. But now Satan has no choice. For in Christ’s perfect obedience, even to death on the cross, the once defaced image of God has been fully restored in Him. The image of God radiates flawlessly from the Body that still bears the scars of perfect Love. Therefore “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Amen.