Read: Hebrews 12:18-24
Innumerable angels in festal gathering. (v. 22)
That two-word title sounds even stranger than the previous one, “The Church’s Banquet.” Whatever does “Angels’ Age” mean? Nothing, surely, to do with how many years angels live?
We regularly use the word “age” in a way that has nothing to do with length of life. You remember Fred and Wilma Flintstone? As the theme song tells us, “They’re a modern Stone Age family.” And the cartoons are concerned neither with historical dates nor with how old these characters are, but with life imagined in a world of Stone Age cars and telephones and pets, in a Stone Age suburb.
The Flintstones lived in a world like, yet unlike, ours. In the same way, the New Testament talks about the “age to come” or the “world to come,” which is sooner or later going to replace this one that we see around us. Just as we could look back on the cartoonist’s view of life in the Stone Age world of the Flintstones, so we can look forward to life in the Angels’ Age world of George Herbert’s poem. In that future world, where everything will at last make sense, we shall see angels everywhere, carrying out God’s purposes. The poet’s point is that prayer can admit us here and now to that Angels’ Age view of things, seeing the invisible God working “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).
Here is the poem in its entirety:
BY GEORGE HERBERT
Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,’
The six-days-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood.
The land of spices; something understood.
In the words of Francis Thompson, “The angels keep their ancient places; / Turn but a stone, and start a wing!”
Author: Michael Wilcock