Ladders and Angels
There are so many things I want to talk about today:
- angels and archangels
- ladders and messages
- Friday’s climate strike and the huge rallies held all over Canada and globally
- Orange Shirt Day and the children who were sent away to residential schools
Let me start with ladders and angels, because they go together in today’s readings.
Ladders here represent a link between heaven and earth.
And angels are those who carry a crucial message or announcement. (The Greek word angelos means messenger.)
First we heard part of the adventures of Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, scoundrel and trickster. He’s on the run from his brother Esau who he’s tricked out of his birthright. And he’s sleeping rough out in the wilderness when he has this dream of a ladder reaching from heaven to earth with angels going up and down it. And then God is standing beside him, promising him the blessing of a land and descendants. The ladder reaches down to the dirt where Jacob is lying, and the message promises that he will be lifted up, his fortunes will change. But there’s a long road of penitence and reformation in between.
In the gospel Jesus is making a slightly veiled reference to this story, saying to the disciples that they will witness heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon Jesus. He himself is the embodiment of the reaching out of God for us. He is both the ladder and the message, the good news. And their lives will be changed.
It’s because something’s missing that ladders and messages are needed. It’s because a gulf has opened up between God’s way and ours that these divine go-betweens are necessary.
It’s the gulf between things as they are and things as they should be that characterizes our lives. We have an idea of what a perfect world would be like, but the reality is far different.
And the worse it is, the wider the gulf becomes, until we start to see everything in polarities: in terms of good and bad, sacred and profane, us and them, heavenly and earthly.
We create dualisms: this or that thinking that splits rather than seeks to unite.
We do it in our personal lives: my husband does or says something I feel hurt by, and I tell myself, “He never understands.” A gap widens between us.
We do it in our political lives: opposition and condemnation become the norm, and collaboration between parties the exception.
We do it in our societal lives: some people seem different from us, seem to threaten our identity and values, so we seek to control them or force them to be like us.
Disconnection, conflict, even violence come from these seeds of separation.
And terrible harm is done.
The indigenous children who were sent to residential schools and lost their families, their language and culture, their self-respect, even their lives, were victims of this split way of thinking. Us and them. Our way is best, so we will impose it.
The very earth has been harmed by this split way of thinking. We’ve seen ourselves as above and outside “nature,” and we’ve plundered the earth and poisoned it. We thought we were separate from the complex web of life. And now we and all creatures are suffering the consequences.
We’re all the victims of the gulfs and divisions we’ve created.
We need to reconnect. We need to hear words that will transcend barriers.
We need to reconnect ourselves to this sacred earth.
We need to reconnect with each other.
We need something or someone to bridge the gulf between how things could be and should be, and how they are; between the realm of God and these lives of ours.
We need ladders. We need angels. We need messages to remind us.
Who are those ladder-walking, message-bearing angels today?
Perhaps Greta Thunberg is one – with a voice so intense speaking to the UN and the world it makes me weep.
Perhaps Autumn Pelletier is one – the 14 year old Anishinaabe-kwe young woman from Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island, who was also speaking to the UN this week, and has been a water warrior for several years already advocating for clean water and its protection.
Perhaps Cindy Blackstock is one – an indigenous Gitxsan woman who has worked for 30 years to protect the welfare and rights of indigenous children.
Those leaders who inspire us and draw us together to seek the good are angels on ladders of reconnection. They are Christ-like in a very deep sense. They are a gift to us.
But we need to do the work.
Jacob had to get up and ultimately, years later, apologize to his brother and seek reconciliation. The disciples had to learn the cost of following the way of Jesus, and be willing to give their very lives to it.
We need to walk in each other’s shoes, learn about the people we’ve wronged, seek reconciliation, to bridge the gulfs that have developed between us.
We need to see through a different lens, when the way we’ve seen and lived has brought such violence and destruction. Like Jacob, we need a dream of connection and a voice of blessing, in the midst of the mess we’ve created.
We need to be willing to listen, and keep on listening, to the messages that challenge us and hold out hope.
And we need to take action, and keep on taking action. That means changing, giving some things up, taking other things on. And it will cost us. But we have a host of angels and archangels cheering us on, and a God of grace who makes the impossible possible.
May Christ the ladder, Christ the good news, bless you as you follow that path. Amen.