Pastors, we have a unique opportunity this year with the last Sunday of the month being October 30th. We have the opportunity to educate and equip the households of our congregations to commemorate and celebrate All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day (October 31 and November 1). While one day’s festivities might be easier to address than the other, the truth is that each one needs the other.
Let’s begin with the obvious: October 31st, All Hallows Eve (or Halloween). I’ve got to be honest, I’ve loved this day all my life; I mean kids, costumes and candy…need I say more? But as the years have past I’ve grown to appreciate so much more about Halloween, and that primarily has to do with death. Now, no one likes death, but in the last century in North American culture it seems as though death has become the thing we collectively ignore, or refuse to consider or be confronted by. Funerals and the grieving process have become far more about convenience; just ask you local Funeral Director. Nowadays the majority of people want to schedule wakes, services, and burials on the weekend when it’s most convenient for everyone. We no longer want or allow the death of a loved one to be an interruption. Far fewer children attend wakes and funerals because we fear what their exposure to this side of reality might do to them. We want the process to be quick and painless and, as a result, it carries over into the rest of our lives.
In our contemporary society there is a general attitude of ignorance towards death. I once heard someone say it best: “We all live like we’re never going to die.” That’s why I like Halloween because it’s an opportunity for us, especially followers of Jesus Christ, to confront death. On this night, celebrated across our culture, death, bones and anything reflecting the frailty of our mortality are accepted and considered to be appropriate. Of course, some individuals might take these considerations too far and make the festivities more about fear, but that’s not where our origins lie.
It was in Ireland, Scotland and England that All Hallows Eve first became a combination of prayer and merriment. At that time children would go door-to-door and they would sing, “Soul, soul, an apple or two, if you haven’t an apple, a pear will do, one for Peter, two for Paul, three for the Man Who made us all.” The tradition of All Hallows Eve emerged from an era when death actually was a serious and acceptable meditation. Christian art from that period shows skulls and bones as commonplace for interior decoration, at least in the cells of the convents and monasteries. While our contemporary commercialism whitewashes many rituals and festivals of their true meaning, history teaches us there is more to the story than just this moment. Even though our bodies shall indeed return to dust some day, because of Jesus’ resurrection, because he is our living hope, death will not have the last word! Therefore there is good reason for prayer and merriment and there can be meaning in commemorating and maybe even making a mockery of death with masks, decorations and dress-up! I think we should embrace the opportunity to confront death for ourselves, and do so in community, because that’s the other opportunity October 31 affords us. It’s the one night a year in our towns, neighborhoods, and communities that we truly share with our neighbors; knocking on each other’s doors, sharing candy and conversation as families. In our culture there isn’t any other celebration or event like it! It’s an incredible open invitation for the body of Christ to connect with their greater community, which is also why we wake up from our candy comatose on the morning of November 1 to remember the rich history and heritage of the Church that also invites us to celebrate community in another way.
All Hallows Eve is the Eve of All Saints Day, and All Saints Day is an opportunity we far too often forget. The “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) is our lineage and inheritance. It is the memory and the testimony of those who have lived faithfully for the LORD and have gone on before us. For those of us who live out our Christianity in a culture of great comfort and convenience, All Saints Day is an important opportunity for us to commemorate those who have sacrificed so much: those who have suffered persecution and martydom in the past and those who continue to suffer persecution around the world today. While Halloween, with it’s candy and costumes, gives us reason to embrace our mortality and make a mockery of death, All Saints Day provides us with an increased awareness of just how great a cloud of witnesses we belong to and how we too can follow faithfully in such a way.
So, pastors, let us not overlook the opportunities our culture and the Christian calendar affords us. Let us educate and equip the families of our congregations so that, come the morning of November 1, we might worship in some way, share in a moment of silence in honor of those who have gone before us, and invite our children to pray for those presently persecuted for their commitment to Christ.