Archdeacon Michael: Under attack in the park
I have a love-hate relationship with swans. I think they are one of the most elegant and stately birds.
I adore seeing them either on a lake or flying in formation, however, on land they terrify me.
On one occasion a particularly aggressive cob successfully penned my entire family into a bandstand, hissing and opening his wings to ensure we couldn’t escape until a distraction took him away and we could escape.
One day I found two long feathers from a swan by a lake near Chorley. They were beautifully clean and about 14 inches long, they proved a Godsend for a Christmas sermon.
For the sermon I put on my flat cap and outdoor coat and acted as if I was the shepherd left on the hillside when the others had gone to see the baby born in Bethlehem.
I was the someone who had to stay behind looking after the sheep and picking up all these feathers that the angels had left when they had come to bring their “glad tidings of great joy.” It’s not every day that one of my sermon illustrations is remembered a decade later, but I found out that this was one.
I think it was a mixture of a different insight combined with Lancastrian practicality as to what happened to the sheep etc!
Saturday is St Michael and All Angels’ day or Michaelmas as it used to be called. It is a “quarter day” and often there were hiring fairs in towns on such days, this one would be when the labourer would be paid for the harvest.
I’ve written before about my name and it won’t surprise you that I have an interest in angels. The British Museum has some carved angels from Babylon that are terrifying, they are large and imposing. Even the angels in the Bible must have been quite intimidating as they always begin by saying, “do not be afraid.” However, angels, messengers from God, appear in our lives and either communicate a whole new perspective on life or protect us in difficult situations.
Sometimes these angels leave mementos behind, maybe not feathers from their wings, but resonances of an encounter that was beyond the mundane, the earthly, but something that speaks of heaven.
Sometimes we might ourselves act as angels to others. A voice that enables others not to be afraid, to see where and what God is doing. Someone who helps or protects another and then moves on.