“With Angels and Archangels”
St. Michael and All Angels
Isaiah 6:1-7 (free text)
September 29, 2013
[18th Sunday after Trinity]
IN NOMINE JESU
What a vision Isaiah must have seen! There was the Lord, sitting on His throne, with the train of His robe filling the temple, the very place the Lord established His holy presence, just as He has established His presence here, filling His house with His holy Word. Above the throne were the seraphim, angels with six wings each, singing the Lord’s praises. These angels sang antiphonally; that is, they sang back and forth to each other in praise of their Lord and God. Their heavenly, majestic voices shook the doorposts of the temple, and smoke filled the temple—holy smoke—the burning incense that announced that YHWH Himself was present in all His glory and holiness. This was too much for poor Isaiah to take, for Isaiah, by his own confession, was a man of unclean lips and lived among a people of unclean lips, and He saw God. Isaiah remembered that God had said no one could see the face of the Almighty and live. Isaiah was convinced He was going to die. But this was not to be, for God sent one of His angels with a burning coal from the altar, touching Isaiah’s lips with that burning coal—not burning the soon-to-be prophet but burning away his sin, for the Lord took away Isaiah’s sin…He forgave Isaiah and called him to be His prophet.
The song of the angels was powerful, for it announced the divine, glorious, and holy presence of God Almighty. God was present in His house, and where God is, He brings all of heaven with Him: the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven, lauding and magnifying His glorious Name, evermore praising Him and singing what we heard in our text: the Sanctus, the Latin word for “holy.” The song of the angels is our song, too. No, this does not mean we too are angels, and it certainty does NOT mean that we become angels when we die, for angels are separate members of God’s creation. What it does mean is that our voices join with theirs when we sing God’s praises, just as we do when we sing the angels’ song, the Sanctus. Notice how this great hymn begins, with the word holy sung three times. Is this a coincidence? No, it is not, for God does not work in coincidences. The angels were praising the entire Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: three Persons in one God, and one God in three Persons. Holy Father. Holy Son. Holy Spirit. This thrice-holy God is the Lord of Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts, the Lord—the Commander-in-chief—of the heavenly hosts of armies of the angels who serve Him and battle for Him against the old evil foe the devil and his henchmen: the world and our sinful nature, who tremble before God, because the devil and his legion of demons do believe in God—and they shudder!
We should shudder, too. We should, like Isaiah, cry out, “Woe is me!” We should be down on our knees. Why? We sinners are in the very presence of God Himself, the God who comes down to us today, as we pray Matins, in His holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. This is the same God who comes down to us in Divine Service, being present among us in His Word and Sacraments. God is holy. God is here. We are here. We are not holy. We are people of unclean lips (you and me alike), and we dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. The language of the Church (the language spoken, sung, prayed, and heard in the Liturgy of the Church—whether in Divine Service, Matins, or Vespers), is not a language spoken by the unclean lips of the world. You see, the world neither knows nor cares about the language of the Church. The world does not understand, speak, or sing holy words, and neither does the Old Adam that lurks inside each of us. The human tongue is a dangerous, even lethal, weapon, used to cut down our neighbors and to break the Ten Commandments, especially the Second and Eighth Commandments. We break the Eighth when we gossip, slander, and spread rumors. We violate the Second when call upon His Name, not to pray, praise, and give thanks, but in amazement, disgust, and condemnation. Isaiah confessed, “Woe is me!” Martin Luther confessed in his hymn based on the 130th Psalm, “From depths of woe I cry to Thee.” With a burning coal, the angel touched Isaiah’s lips, taking away his sin. This morning at the start of Matins we prayed, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise,” words first prayed in the 51st Psalm.
Just as the angel in our text touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal from the altar, our Lord Jesus Christ in Divine Service touches our lips with His body and blood, which He gave and shed on the cross for you and me, for the forgiveness of our sins. The angel pronounced God’s absolution of Isaiah, saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged” (v. 7b). Through the angel, God touched Isaiah’s lips and ears and forgave him. God touches our lips and ears and forgives us our sins. Even as God declared His forgiveness through his angel (angel means “messenger”) then, He declares it today through His pastors. Listen as the pastor says,
Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. [LSB, p. 203]
Not only does God touch our ears and lips, He opens them, too. He opens our ears to receive the Scriptures, which testify of the Christ. He opens our lips, that our mouths would declare His praise, even as we sing in the Te Deum this morning concerning Jesus, “When You took upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin. When You had overcome the sharpness of death, You opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers” (LSB, p. 224). We are singing praises to Jesus for coming down from heaven, being born of the blessed virgin Mary, bleeding and dying on the cross to pay for our sins, and rising from the dead so that we would live in heaven with Him into all eternity. We praise Jesus, the Incarnate Word (the Word-become-flesh) who gave His body and shed His blood from His throne of the cross, atop the temple called the Skull (Golgotha), that we would partake of His risen body and blood before His altar in the foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. The Holy Spirit prepares us for the unending Feast, washing and clothing us in Baptism, feeding us on Jesus’ body and blood, as well as on the Word of God, that we would sing with the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven—the Gloria in Excelsis: “Glory be to God on high: and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”; “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain”; and in the hymn we sing to celebrate Christ our King’s coming to His people, whether in the Sacrament of the Altar, as we sing the Sanctus, or in His Word, as we sing the angels’ song as part of the Te Deum. Let our prayer this day, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, be in the words of the Proper Preface for this day and from the Te Deum:
It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through Him Your majesty is praised by all the holy angels and celebrated with one accord, as to You all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein. To You cherubim and seraphim sing Your praise, and with them we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and continually do cry, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of the majesty of Your glory!” Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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