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The Angel of Philadelphia

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

The Angel of Philadelphia to the church (Revelation 3: 7-13)

The angel of Philadelphia who holds the Key of David, who opens, and no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens holds out the challenge of living as a resurrection people and offers the gift of gratitude, a victor’s crown and a position of honour. In reading and meditation on the passage, especially as this is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, there were words that stood out for me as I pondered:

  • I know your work.
  • I set before you an open door that no one can slam shut.
  • Though you don’t have much strength you use it to keep my Word
  • You didn’t deny me when times were rough.
  • You have had passionate patience and I will keep you safe in times of testing.
  • You will have a permanent position of honour.

The angel of Philadelphia in the challenge to ‘hold fast’ as the resurrection people, seems to be holding out a gift for us – kept safe in the time of testing, it evokes in us the gift of gratitude. Philadelphia is a name derived from Greek and means the city of human love. It is the place where love lives, and the angel is challenging us to hold fast as resurrection people to God’s love that is the pilot light of our love, to hold fast to our love for each other, with compassion and an open heart for deeper understanding and reconciliation. It is the gift of going through the door that is always open to us, in gratitude.

Gratitude in its deepest sense means to live life as a gift to be received gratefully. Gospel gratitude speaks about gratitude as it embraces all of life: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy. Can we live in gratitude in our world today where gladness and sadness, joy and sorrow, peace and conflict remain so radically separated? Is it truly possible to embrace with gratitude all our life and not just the good things that we like to remember? How can this help us in the work of reconciliation?

Here we meet the angel of Philadelphia, the angel that comes to our resurrection community of human love! And we are commended for our passionate patience. Unlike the angel of Sardis, this angel speaks tenderly and longingly to us. “I open and none can shut, I shut, and none can open … and I have opened the door for you, and no one will be able to shut it.” Open and closed doors stand for many experiences in our lives. This may be an opportunity to reflect upon these experiences, to dust off the angels that might have been, or are, hovering around. What challenges did these ‘doors” pose? What gifts did they come with?

This angel holds out to us a picture of us knocking on the door, and it being opened: Jesus is the key to whatever unifies in our lives, the key to the doors of the prisons that confine us and the key to the doors that keep us safe. The worst prisons are the invisible ones of fear, mistrust, anger … this angel encourages me to time to ask myself, what prisons, what slaveries are part of my life today, that I need God to open for me? There is not a lot of security in the world, it is a place where we compete for what we want, need, or feel driven to take. Our lives are fragile and vulnerable. Into this the angel says, “I will keep you safe in the midst of whatever happens.” It is a message that the power of God is more powerful than all the evil that we can do to one another or to this world. Despite us, God will be God for us. We can doubt it, we can blind ourselves to it, but in the end, we are God’s home. The message of the angel of Philadelphia is that we are beautiful inside and out with God’s beauty and God is with us. God’s love reaches out to us not only tenderly but also tenaciously. God will never let us go, never give up on us, never stop loving us.

How do we open doors for others? As resurrection people our communities are to be communities that serve as contexts for transformation, communities that live out the call to love others tenderly and tenaciously. Our communities are meant to be environments in which life can come unraveled and be re-woven with new health and life. They are meant to be places where new and fragile beginnings are nurtured. They are meant to be places that refuse to rest until love and justice are offered not just for some, but for all. The undersong or support for this is the willingness to accept the strong, tough gift of gratitude.

I once started an exercise of writing down at the end of the day all the things I was thankful for that day. It was part of my spiritual discipline of trying to be conscious of all the little things of daily life. I found that the blessings were often little things: a ripe tomato from the garden made into a sandwich, a quarrel resolved, hummingbirds at the feeder, a friendly smile, the slow recovery from surgery. All of these seemed like gifts. And I realized that gratitude was not simply an easy emotion or obvious response: it was a challenging discipline, with far-reaching implications for the way we see the world.

Somehow the gift of gratitude contains a seeming paradox, one which this angel of Philadelphia encourages us to hold onto. Gladness and sadness are never separate, joy and sorrow really belong together, mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. The call to gratitude is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life. When our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for a new future can never be full. As long as we remain resentful about things we wish had not happened, about relationships that we wish had turned out differently, about mistakes we wish we had not made, part of our heart remains isolated, unhealed, unable to bear fruit in the new life ahead of us. We keep the door closed, while God waits to open it for us.

As we listen to the tender longing in this angel’s challenge to us, it seems to me that we are being given an opportunity to begin to look at things differently, a change of perception. It is a change, a shift in attitude: to see life’s blessings as half-full rather than half-empty! As resurrection people gratitude moves us to begin to see more deeply into the mystery of things. The door is open, God stands waiting ready to open when we knock. We are being invited to live as resurrected people. It is the call of an open heart, to noticing the blessings of small things, to take nothing for granted. And it is an encouragement to learn from our mistakes, to continue to walk the path of truth and reconciliation in open hearted love, and to live with a large amount of gratitude in our hearts, born of honest reflection and open minds.