The Book of Revelation is not one I profess to understand. It is shot through with strange and terrible prophecies, illumined by an unsettling end-of-the-world glare. Chapter 12, the origin of the story of the Archangel Michael’s battle with Satan, has so many levels of meaning and reference that its complexities leave me confused. That said, the triumph of good over evil, however portrayed, is always an encouraging one, though we know full well that the battle is not over for us yet. There is, however, an earlier chapter in Revelation that caught my eye this morning: chapter 8, where there is silence in heaven for half an hour after the seventh seal is broken.
Silence in scripture is a sign of the coming of God, a mark of anticipation and reverence. Only the Lamb can break the seal, for only the Lamb can control what is to happen next. Traditional interpretations of Revelation 8 speak of the prayers of the saints and the work of the angels in holding back the woes that afflict humankind, but only for ‘half an hour’, a short period of time. I sometimes think that this brief half-hour of strenuous silence is an image of the prayer offered by the monastic order. We do not pray in order to change God’s mind about anything; we pray simply because he is God. But our prayer does effect change — because he wills that it should. Just as he loves us, so our love for him expressed in prayer and adoration creates the kind of intimacy and trust we see portrayed in the Trinity of the Rublev icon. There is, humanly speaking, neither beginning nor end, for all comes from him. We are inserted into the dynamic of God’s love, and who would wish to be anywhere else?
When we ask the prayers of St Michael to defend us in the day of battle, we are not merely asking help when we confront our inner demons, the evil we see around us or the hidden dangers that assault us, we are asking to be open to this love of God that is our rock, our surest defence against everything that is negative and destructive. It is God’s love that leads us, protects us, and ultimately saves us. Let us rejoice that we have in Michael so mighty a guide, so doughty a champion — and perhaps remember that it is our privilege as human beings to know those things into which even angels long to look (cf 1 Peter. 12). What gratitude should be ours!