It’s Michaelmas and it’s an uncertain time. In medieval times, Michaelmas saw the seasons shift from harvest into later autumn. Michaelmas riggs is the name of the sudden storms that can suddenly appear at this time. Michaelmas summer is a name for a spell of warmth around the end of September – the last of the summer sun as it gives way to autumn. For educational institutions Michaelmas is the name of the term that runs from September until December. Michaelmas Fairs are still held in some towns and villages.
The name Michaelmas comes from St.Michael the archangel who was extremely popular in medieval times. One tradition across the whole country was eating the Michaelmas goose, in fact it was far more popular than today’s eating of Christmas turkey. 29th September is the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels. St. Michael is famously portrayed in the Bible leading the angels in a fight against good and evil, defeating the dragon (also called the Devil and deceiver of the whole world) who was thrown out of heaven. Unfortunately, the dragon landed on earth where his devilish work and deceit have continued.
This account is to be found in one of the most radical, prophetic, fascinating and misunderstood books in the Bible. It is in the book of Revelation (chapter 12.7-17). It is radical because Revelation was written for Christians who, at the time, were going through terrible persecutions, some of whom were facing the threat of death on a daily basis – just as many Christians across the world are today. The book of Revelation is a form of underground protest literature written in a code that would have been understood by suffering Christians. It was lifting and broadening their vision. Yes, their suffering and uncertainty was real, but when they could see that life was richer and more varied than what was surrounding them and when they saw that real life and authority did not reside in the hands of those ruling them in this world, it would have restored something that they were losing. It gave back to them hope. This wider vision did not tell them that they should stop resisting nor did it tell them to stop working for the good in the places they lived; it certainly did not tell them to give up the struggle. But it helped them to see differently, to gain perspective, to persevere in the truth and not to lose hope.
I found the Michaelmas celebration an encouragement in the middle of the Brexit mess and uncertainty. Of course, all that we face is nothing in comparison to what those early Christians and those of all faiths and none being persecuted today face. Nevertheless, wherever we stand, or don’t stand, in regard to faith and belief, Michaelmas with its focus on fighting against evil and deceit and its later link with storms and celebration, provides a survival pack for the modern-day trials around and ahead. I highlight three points.
First it encourages us to see differently and to gain perspective. Over recent years the country’s vision has been reduced by the dominance of the Brexit process. Everything is viewed, interpreted and acted upon through the lens and issues of Brexit. The result is that we (the country) have become more xenophobic, more racist and less tolerant. Debate has become polarised and toxic. Across the political spectrum, there is less reaching out to the ‘other’: to other views and to other people from different backgrounds. We even view politicians, elected by us, through the lens of Brexit and they frequently act out in the way they are viewed. To see differently requires looking at the world, and beyond, differently. It is not possible or wise to turn our backs on this current political obsession, but it is possible to reduce the volume, to minimise it on the screen of our mind and to embrace other, more energising and life giving aspects of the world and of life. This is one way of bringing a desperately needed perspective.
Secondly, Michaelmas encourages the pursuit of truth which means a setting aside of deceit. Furthermore it shows that, in the end, truth will prevail while deceit will be seen for what it is. But is this true in national life? Truth has been a casualty in politics whereas deceit is being rewarded. Deceit is more acceptable today than it was three years ago. In the middle of this, there are prophetic voices, but, like the ancient prophets, they are crying in a wilderness where ears are closed and minds made up. People cannot grow and flourish in an atmosphere where deceit is accepted as the norm because deep down deceit always brings dis-ease and never brings satisfaction.
Finally, Michaelmas points to hope. For Christians, hope (which is not the same as optimism) provides confidence that there is way through the most painful and intractable of predicaments. Hope changes perspectives. Hope transforms the way people see the present so that a mill-stone can become a stepping-stone: an enemy becomes a friend. Britain has a history of finding hope in times of darkness.
Fed up with Brexit? Look to the angels.
Image 1: Remand Bertrams from Pixabay
Image 2: DeFacto
Image 3: Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay