All Saints’ Sunday
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

 

 

We had a great time at our “Trunk-or-Treat” gathering last Saturday. Lots of neighborhood kids showed up as well as our own children, and the night before that we had good time and another full house at Silents in the Cathedral. Both those events are Halloween traditions that we celebrate at Grace Cathedral.

And I want to talk about that, because in recent years Halloween seems to have needed defending against more conservative Christians who regard it as terrible or unholy. Certainly there can be excess at Halloween, one could focus on the dark side of the occasion. But in itself the holiday is worthwhile. It can even teach us something important about the faith.
First, it should be noted that Halloween actually comes out of the church and Christian faith.

Halloween falls October 31st, and All Saints’, officially, is November 1st, though many congregations, the Cathedral included, celebrate All Saints’ on the following Sunday. As is well known, or maybe not so well known to some, the name Halloween means All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve. Thus it is, or can be—and, perhaps, should be—part of the Christian celebration.

I think the sticker for many Christians, who would just as soon banish Halloween from the calendar, is the fact that many of the popular Halloween customs date back to the pre-Christian Druids of Ireland and Britain. It is the magic and Paganism—the belief in many gods and ghouls and goblins—the lore of those days—that won’t let them accept any part of Halloween, including the fun of it, into their Christian life.

However, the fact is a part of the faith and Christian teaching is missed when we forget these customs come to us through the filter of many Christian centuries. Christ has conquered the powers of darkness and revealed the old gods to be nothing. The once fearful aspects of this season have become playful. Where once adults shuddered in fear at the darkness and the creatures of the night, now even the smallest child can laugh.

It’s Christian confidence that makes Halloween a light-hearted time. & Just as many who are not Christian share the joy of Christmas each year because the light of Jesus is abundant, so too, many who are not Christian share our confidence at Halloween because God’s saving grace is abundant. It overflows. Halloween has been baptized. It has become All Saints’ Eve in more than name alone. Both occasions address the same themes, though they do so in different ways. Both occasions are concerned with the of hope life beyond the grave, choosing the side of the angels and courage in a scary universe.

All Saints’ approaches these themes with triumphant joy. Halloween deals with them through mischievous humor. Blessed are those who pass through the humor of Halloween to the joy of All Saints’.

And notice, too, that children are the chief celebrants of Halloween. Those of us who are adults serve as their acolytes. And what do children do on Halloween? They dress up in outlandish costumes and witness their peers dressed up the same way. They walk through their neighborhoods in the evening, enter houses made to look frightful, they collect candy, and they return home again. The whole business is a delightful joke. For behind the scary masks and costumes are laughing children. Inside the “frightful” houses, decorated with spider webs and candles, are friendly, generous neighbors.

Like the child (or adult) who reads and enjoys Harry Potter or C.S. Lewis or Clive Barker novels, the child who goes forth with a trick-or-treat bag takes a sane, healthy, and adventuresome risk, and finds that the universe (though a little bit scary on sight) can be a safe place. The trick-or-treater discovers that the world is a comedy where terrible things have been defeated and remain only as a laughingstock.

It’s a great therapy for fear – Halloween. From a Christian perspective, it is a lesson that teaches us, by Christ, and in Christ, and through Christ, even in those things the world tells us we should fear most, there is nothing to fear. Evil has no hold on us. It has been defeated finally and forever.

Those of us past childhood would do well to imitate the willingness of children to venture forth into the unknown, to take risks, and return home not only safe but triumphant. Children are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell. They are new to this fight, and want to prove themselves heroic.

Benedictine sister Genevieve Glen writes of children:
“They are all too aware of the human need to wrestle in the inward night with the unreasoning, the untamed, the inexplicable…. [They] believe us when we tell them that there are no evil witches, no ghosts and goblins, and no phosphorescent skeletons. … They know, too, that if you’re afraid of something, the best thing to do is to dress yourself and your friends — and even your little brother — as the thing you’re afraid of, so that you can see it in familiar flesh and confront it and deal with it and prove to yourself that it can’t really hurt you. They know that pretending that it isn’t real won’t work if it is. [They know that there] are monsters under the bed [that need to be confronted, and dealt with, and done away with.].”

So the Halloween wisdom of children comes down to this: There are monsters under the bed, but we can face our fears, and by grace and struggle be set free from them. This is infinitely preferable to the common adult attitude that denies monsters under the bed, yet insists on remaining fearful. Our children have caught the Gospel we often let slip away. Their hearts are filled with faith and fun.

This feast of All Saints’, with baptisms, and triumphant music, and splendid prayers, and white hangings and vestments, and everything else—this is the sunny side of Halloween. Today is joy while last week was comedy. The saints we honor this day, the graduates of past generations, as well as those of us still enrolled in the school of grace and struggle, are a vast, innumerable crowd, and, today, we welcome Marik into our class.

The saints are those wise enough to face their fears and accept the help of God as naturally as a small child walking in the dark accepts a parent’s hand.

The saints are those who accept an adventuresome risk, and one that’s sane and healthy too, even if their contemporaries can’t quite figure them out.

These saints know the great therapy for fear. They take God seriously, and everyone and everything else, including themselves, seriously too, but never forget the joy and laughter and love that make life worth living.

Saints are people who aren’t afraid to live with both the gruesome and the glorious. They are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell, because they know that God has conquered the dark side with the light of Christ. They are called forth into the unknown. They can venture forth into spooky places, and return home not only safe but triumphant.

Their hearts are full of love and faith and hope and fun. Ignatius Loyola told his seminarians, “Laugh and grow strong!” Philip Neri performed ridiculous dances in the presence of cardinals and wore his clothes inside out. Teresa of Avila taught her Carmelite nuns to dance on holy days and even gave them castanets. Chad, Bishop of Litchfield, when the archbishop insisted he ride a horse rather than walk on his diocesan visitations, rode facing backwards. (Okay, that one may have been out of spite, but both the bishop and the archbishop must have seen some humor and delight in the act.)

Children at Halloween recognize that beyond the very real struggle, there is a world of delight, free from fear’s control. That world is where the saints dwell, both saints in heaven and saints on earth.

Today is the feast of All Saints. We remember those who have gone before, we rejoice with those who are with us now, and we pray for those who will follow after. Halloween night is “Part 1” of this glorious holiday and holy day weekend. All Saints’ Day is “Part 2:” the finale of the journey, that ultimately brings us to the happy return home, with hearts glad and eyes open to the wonder of God.

Using words from the priest and poet John Donne, let us pray to join with all the saints in that one common home:
“Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity in the habitations of your glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.”

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