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Angels Unawares

Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake
of those who are to inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:14

I hadn’t given much thought to angels ever intersecting my life or anyone else’s, until the night my father died.  It was thirty years ago this week that we rushed to my parent’s home where my father had been struck by a heart attack.  Then after a long, sorrowful evening in the emergency room, our four year old son, Wyatt, broke the news.  He had seen angels!  I have Wyatt’s permission to tell you the story that follows.

“I saw two angels tonight at Grandpa’s”, Wyatt shyly told his mother and me.  Taken aback by the wonder of Wyatt’s words, I asked him:  “What did the angels look like?”  “They didn’t look like men or women,” he explained, “but they were bright and shining.”  I thought to myself “that sounds just like the description of angels in the Bible”.  It was then that I realized this was more than a little boy’s active imagination: Wyatt’s child eyes had been opened to behold glory.

Eager to learn more about what Wyatt had been graced to see, I asked him:  “Where did you see the angels?”  Without hesitation Wyatt replied with certainty:  “The angels were standing over by the palm trees where Nana was.”  I then remembered seeing my mother by the palm trees bent over in grief, and I pictured two bright and shining angels standing guard over her.

Through the heart heaviness of the days that followed, I thought a lot about what Wyatt witnessed that night.  As I often do in times of trouble, I turned instinctively to the Psalms and found there God’s promise to “command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11).  I pondered the psalmist’s words and thought again of strong, bright, shining angels keeping watch over my mother, and keeping watch over all of us.

I remembered God’s holy angels ministering to Jesus in His trouble in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:12).  I recalled how in Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane an “angel from heaven appeared to Him and gave Him strength” (Luke 22:43).  For the first time I considered the reality of angels dispatched from the Throne to help us in ways we cannot know or imagine.

In today’s Scripture text, the Holy Spirit teaches that the angels are spirits sent by God in “divine service” to us.  While I do not worship angels, (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 22:8-9), as only God is worthy of worship, I am now more aware of the angels that God sends to “serve” on our behalf.   I think that only in heaven will we know the help and protection that God’s special agents have given us while on earth.

We live in difficult and trying times.  And we battle against powerful spiritual enemies of our soul (Ephesians 6:12).  But we are not alone in the fight.  We are not alone in our troubles.  Mighty and holy angels are sent at God’s command to help and guard us whatever the distress.

In the many years since my father’s death and that awe-ful night of sorrow and epiphany, I have often thought about angels, and given thanks to God for them.  During my years of ministry in hospice I gathered numerous stories of close encounters with God’s wondrous celestial servants.  There at the moment of death, as eternity breaks into time, as the earth under our feet becomes holy, there I have known God’s love sent to us through His holy angels.

Two years ago, I sat by my mother’s bed as her worn out body was about to be overcome by the life from above.  There I quietly sang and prayed for her the old spiritual:

“I looked over Jordan,
And what did I see,
Comin’ for to carry me home,
A band of angels comin’ after me,
Coming for to carry me home.
Swing low, sweet chariot…”

I asked God’s chariot to swing low that day and for His angels to carry her Home.  I am grateful for a father and mother who first told me about the angels, but it was my little son, who with child eyes taught me the glory that is all around.

“Ye watchers and ye holy ones, bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones, raise the glad strain, Alleluia!”
–Tim Smith


Photo by Sue Hasker

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