When I was very little, I truly thought that “Harold” was an angel’s name, and that the man who owned and ran Harold’s Grocery down the block from our house was lucky to have an angel’s name for his store. (I also thought there was another angel named “Low.” Clearly I was not some sort of scriptural prodigy.)
Harold is an angel
From the holy throng
Who raised their glorious song
As I grew older and started school, I began to learn more about angels, like my guardian angel, along with archangels Gabriel and Michael, and the angels over Bethlehem who raised their “Gloria” on Christmas.
Hark! His name reminds us
Of that blessed morn
When Jesus Christ was born,
Savior of the world.
As my adult life as a music director got underway, and after some theological/scriptural education, I noted something of a curious aversion in the Sunday Lectionary to the angels and trumpets of the end-times. The Lectionary, for example, skips 1 Corinthians 51–52:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not sleep, but we shall be changed in a mere instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.”
Later on this liturgical year, as we come to the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, we will not hear Jesus speak about the end-time angels and their trumpet:
“And the Son of Man will send forth angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together the elect from the four winds, and from one end of the sky to the other,” (Matthew 24:31).
Harold has a trumpet
For a future time,
A morning made sublime
With eternal light.
Likewise, the trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 can be skipped by using a shorter option of the reading (though the “longer” reading is only five verses). Sadly, the trumpet-playing angels of Revelation 8 never appear at all.
As much as I’ve wondered why this phenomenon occurs, I doubt that there was some active anti-trumpet lobby behind the Lectionary. Perhaps it’s the literal, Bible-as-textbook approach to scripture of our modern era, in which the colorful, dramatic imagery characteristic of so much scriptural language gets downplayed. As someone who has always enjoyed this kind of language—and dabbles in poetry—its omission from our Sunday readings often strikes me as unnecessary, and a bit regrettable.
Practicing with passion
Is his way to pray,
Until that splendid day
Christ will come again!
Given my backstory, when it came time for the trumpet to appear in St. Cecilia’s Orchestra, of course it had to be played by an angel named Harold. Working on his poem helped me reflect on the end-of-time aspect of Advent and its relationship to the Christmas story.
That relationship has puzzled a few people. They have asked me how an angel who sang “Gloria” over Bethlehem could also sound the trumpet at the end of time. I think these folks are products of that literal, compartmentalizing approach to scripture. We think of Christmas as joyous; the end of time as terrifying. We gloss over the angel telling the shepherds not to be afraid. We forget that when Jesus teaches his followers about the end times, he tells them to be confident and joyful at his return. Why not be as joyous at the return of Christ in glory as on the day of his glorious birth? Why shouldn’t an angel who sang at Bethlehem play the trumpet on that last day?
We, like angel Harold,
Always must prepare
For that trumpet’s blare
Sounding heaven’s call.
We’re thoroughly comfortable with Christmas and its annual return and rituals, but not so much with the open-ended, unknown nature of the end of time. For this reason, Angel Harold’s poem is open-ended, its rhyme scheme (ABBC) placing the rhyming couplet in the center, with the final line remaining open—as our hearts and lives must be to the unknown day of Christ’s return.
In the meantime, we can look to Angel Harold for our example. Like him, we are herald messengers of joyful Good News. Taking our cue from him, we must daily practice and let the message of the gospel sound forth. When that last trumpet will sound, we do not know.
Image: “Trumpet” by Michael O’Neill McGrath. Poem: “Harold Is an Angel” by Alan Hommerding. From St. Cecilia’s Orchestra, copyright © 2010, World Library Publications. All rights reserved. Used with permission.