by The Rev. William Weedon
Our Catechism teaches us to pray every morning and every night: “Let Your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me.” And then in the morning, we are to go off to work singing a hymn; and in the evening, we are to go to sleep at once and in good cheer.
Where does such a prayer come from? This asking of God to let His holy angels be with us so that our evil foe can have no power over us? It comes from today’s Gospel. In today’s Gospel Jesus is not teaching us about angels. He is teaching the importance of humility. But he throws in – almost as an afterthought – a strange saying towards the very end. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 18:10)
“Their angels.” Theirs? It is not as though the angels belong to them. They are called, after all, the holy angels, and holy means (as it always does) “belonging to God.” When God calls something holy, when He makes it holy, he is simply marking it as His own in some special way. So why are they called “their” angels? Not because they belong to them, but because they have been assigned to them. This is what the Psalmist said: “He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” Jesus said that goes not just for the spiritually mature and advanced, but above all, it goes for the little ones that the disciples were tempted to overlook as being rather unimportant. Best not be overlooking them, Jesus warns! They are so important that they have an angel assigned to them, every one of them his own assigned angel. The angels, whose joy is to gaze upon the face of the Father, also delight in serving Him by looking out for the little ones.
And so when you see a child in church, you mustn’t think poorly of them – no matter how noisy and squirmy they may be. You must learn to see them as God sees them, as so precious and important to the King of heaven that to each one has been assigned a big, burly heavenly body and soul guard.
But by “little ones” does Jesus mean only children? No. He means those who, becoming as children, enter the kingdom. To become as a child does not mean to become childish. It means to be nothing but given to, a crying need that calls out to be tended and cared for. Such a little one you were made when you were baptized into Jesus. You only received, you had nothing to give. He did all the giving. Baptized, He gave you the forgiveness of all your sins (for a lifetime and more!). Baptized, He gave you His Holy Spirit to live inside of you and fill you with God’s own joy and peace. Baptized, He clothed you in the garment of His own holiness so that the Father sees you as pure and righteous in His sight, for you have been tucked into Christ by your Baptism. And yes, baptized, He assigned to you an angel to watch over you and keep you. Angels are no myth of childhood, but a solid promise of God. All wrapped up in a single word “their.” “Their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
And thus your angel is always doing the will of the Father in heaven. That will is above that His holy angel be with you so that the Evil One may have no power over you.
The Evil One wants you to distrust God and His Word and promises even as he does. The Evil One wants you to be drawn into his bitter life of complaining and griping and railing against God and how utterly unfair He is. The Evil One wants you to share his misery not just here in this life, but eternally in hell. And make no mistake about it, the Evil One has set his sights on you, not just people in general, but on you. He hates you with a passion and he wants to bring about your ruin, to destroy your faith. And do you know why? Because he is filled with pride – the pride that thinks himself something special, and who looks down on you-you little pip-squeak – with utter scorn because God thinks you are so important that He would even assign His angels to guard and protect you. The Evil One rages against the very thought that angelic beings should stoop to serve the likes of flesh and blood.
Whatever shall we do against such a foe? Think of how weak we are, how prone to doubt God’s goodness, to question His wisdom, to complain about how He governs our lives and this world! How prideful we can be, despising and looking down on the little ones and forgetting how precious they are to God! Forgetting that we must all become nothing but such little ones, nothing but given to if we are to be saved.
Jesus reveals to us in today’s Gospel that the Father knows our weakness and therefore sends the holy angels to guard and protect us. They seek to keep us from the evil one. They seek to keep us with them, living lives of praise to the Father; living lives of trust in His goodness; living lives of joy in His presence. Their delight is to sing His praises and especially to sing the praises of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus. They delight to stand in amazement before what drives Satan batty! They celebrate the love He showed for us poor creatures of flesh and blood when He took on our flesh and blood in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and came and lived among us. They delight to remember and rejoice in how He allowed Himself to be taken and crucified, trampling down death by death, out of love for us, and how He rose again to destroy the power of death for all who are joined to Him. His is the story they delight to tell, His the praise they delight to sing, and in Him they have found the cause of endless adoration and joy.
The big job of your holy angel, in keeping you from the evil one, is to keep you rejoicing in your Savior. The big job of your holy angel is to bring to your mind again and again the remembrance of His sufferings for you. To call you to unite with them in their praise that does not cease as you stand with them at the Holy Table, where the One they serve continues to serve you by giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.
So when you pray tonight: “Let your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me,” remember what you are asking for. You are asking that your angel, assigned to you when you were baptized into Christ, would always guard and keep you so that the evil one does not seduce you into his empty, unbelieving, complaining and prideful ways. But that you be kept by the holy angels in the way of your baptism, being a little one who is nothing but given to, and so has no room for pride, yet a little one who delights in joining with angels and archangels in their endless doxologies to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.