I arise today...
Through God’s host to save me...
The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)
Over the next few weeks we will explore what exactly God’s host saves us from, but for now, let’s take a few moments to ask, what exactly is “God’s host?”
This is not a term we hear very often but it has a rich tradition throughout church history and in Scripture.
Most often this term refers to the angels or “angel armies” as the “Heavenly Hosts.” (Psalm 148:2, 1 Kings 22:19, Luke 2:13-14). The problem with angels is that we don’t always recognize them when we see them. The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). When the three visitors came to announce the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, Abraham welcomed them and showed them hospitality as strangers in his midst (Genesis 18:1-22). They appeared as ordinary men and had Abraham not shown hospitality, we do not know if they would have stuck around to deliver the message.
Similarly, Jesus himself walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus but they did not recognize him (Luke 24:13-35). He was going to continue on his way until they showed hospitality by inviting him to stay for dinner, and there around the table, their eyes were opened to the presence of God in their midst. Consistently throughout scripture we find that recognizing the presence of God’s host, or even of God’s personal and immediate presence, begins with an act of hospitality toward a stranger. How often have we missed the presence of God’s host among us because we ignored the stranger in our midst?
Traditionally the heavenly host has also expanded beyond angelic beings to include all of God’s creation, for God is enthroned in the heavens and “the earth is his footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). The point here is not that God treats us as lowly beings to be walked over, but rather that all of the created order is just that, something created or made by God. When the Psalmist declares, “Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!”, it is a reminder that even the sun and moon and stars bow before God (Psalm 148:3). In Jeremiah 31:35 the prophet reminds us of this truth and explicitly refers to the God who created these celestial bodies as the Lord of Hosts, implying in part that the sun, moon and stars may be among God’s host. Zephaniah 1:5 refers to these as the “starry host.” Rather than being gods themselves, as so many ancient people believed, they serve the purposes of the God who made them (Deuteronomy 4:19).
In some cases, even human beings can serve as God’s host. Consider 1 Samuel 7:45 where the “Lord of Hosts” commands Israel’s armies in battle. This is not to say that any human army is the Lord’s host, but those who surrender complete authority to God as their commander may indeed serve in such a role as they carry out God’s saving work in the world.
No matter how broadly or narrowly we define the Heavenly Host, we can say two things for certain. First, the host of God is many… myriad upon myriad. The word host literally means multitude and was often used in the ancient world to refer to massive and intimidating armies. Whether in the form of angels, celestial bodies, or even human beings called for a particular purpose, the host of God is many.
Host also hearkens us back to the image of hospitality. To be a good host is to show hospitality to others. The second thing we can know for certain about the Heavenly host then, is that they are servants of the Most High God, extending hospitality so that God’s presence may be welcome in their midst. Perhaps this is why some parts of the church refer to the bread in the Eucharist as the “Host”, for in this ordinary bread, the holy mystery of God’s presence his “hosted” or made welcome, so that God may enter into our bodies and make us His body for the sake of the world.
May we also serve as hosts of the Lord, always extending hospitality both to the Holy Spirit and to the strangers among us, so that God’s presence may always be welcome in our midst.
1. How do you understand the idea of God’s host?
2. What new insights is the Spirit speaking to you about the role of God’s host in your life?
3. Reflect on a time when God clearly showed up in an act of genuine hospitality toward a stranger.
Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:
... I arise today, through God’s host to save me
from snares of devils…