Monday, 2 November 2015

Halloween and Christianity

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Isaiah 25:6-9Revelation 21:1-6aJohn 11:32-44

In our readings this morning we hear a lot about the dead. First, our reading from the book of Wisdom speaks about those who seem to have died in the eyes of the foolish. It implies there is a hidden reality where the dead are alive in some way. Our reading from Isaiah mentions God’s destruction of death itself. The book of Revelation mentions a time when death will be no more. And in our Gospel reading Jesus calls his friend Lazarus out of the grave and back from death.

You have probably noticed a lot of images of death around lately. Tombstones and skeletons have been decorating shops and people’s houses. You probably had some representatives of death on your doorstep last night. Ghosts, maybe a Lazaurus-esque mummy, and a band of other ghoulish beings probably knocked at your door and demanded candy. It is a time when we are confronted with the mystery of death. But, it is usually a playful confrontation. The skeletons wear bowties and top hats. The coffins are full of candy, and the tombstones have funny sayings like “Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake; Stepped on the gas instead of the brake”, or “He was so brave, he was so cute, too bad he forgot his parachute”. It is not a coincidence that our readings and last night both are marked by the theme of death.

Our modern celebration of Halloween probably has its roots in an old Celtic celebration called Samhain (pronounced ‘Sowin’) that probably existed before Christianity had made its way to the British Isles. As winter came, so did death and darkness. It was a time when they thought spirits, strange creatures, and the dead, could more easily cross over into our world. Some think the costumes might have something to do with hiding from these creatures, and some think the candy and treats had something to do with offerings to appease these visitors so they wouldn’t cause mischief. Samhain may have been some kind of a festival for the dead.

The connection between that ancient celebration and our festival today might seem a bit mysterious. Today we celebrate the feast of “All Saints”. It is a day we set aside to remember all the saints, known and unknown. The word “saint” is related to the word “sanctus”, which is Latin for “holy”. So a saint is a “holy one”. To be “holy” is to be dedicated to God and His work. …The saints are those who have been “hallowed”, or “made holy”. In the words of the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”, which means something like “may your name be holy”. … “Halloween” comes from the phrase “All Hallows Eve” which is the night before “All Hallows Day”- the day we call “All Saints”.

There are a couple ways to think about the saints. In one way, the saints are those who have shown amazing holiness. They have done good and amazing things. They have shown incredible character and courage when confronted by intimidating circumstances. When people meet Saints, they seem to encounter the Spirit of God. They have a very close relationship with Jesus. There are saints in the Bible, and there have been saints throughout the centuries since its writing as well. They are also an amazingly diverse group of people who followed God’s call on their lives in a variety of ways. Some lived like monks in the desert devoting their lives to prayer. Some, like Thomas Aquinas, dedicated their lives to scholarship and learning. Others, like Mother Theresa, dedicated their lives to serving the poor. The saints are an amazing diversity of characters and callings. They are people God used in astonishing ways. Sometimes God used them to bring healing and to show miracles. Sometimes they showed superhuman character in the way they loved.

The saints are those who show us what is possible in a life lived with God. The writer and pastor Frederick Beuchner says, “Their sainthood consists less of what they have done than of what God has for some reason chosen to do through them”. God works through these people to give us a glimpse of Himself and His kingdom. In them we see a love and peace and a courage that is beyond our understanding. The saints show us mystical experiences of God through prayer. They show the courage God can give us to stand up against impossible odds, even when faced with death. The saints show us self-sacrifice as they pick up their cross and follow Jesus. They show us examples of ways God can use us to transform the world. … One writer has called them spiritual scientists because they apply the methods of spirituality that the church has historically taught and as a result they experience God’s powerful presence in their lives. It is a repeatable experience if we will dedicate ourselves to the methods. The author G.K. Chesterton once wrote "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." The saints are examples to us of what happens when we do try. They are those who have had their souls healed in the hospital of the church. In the saints we see God’s grace manifested and blessing the world.

I said there were two ways we use the word “saint”. One way is what I have been describing. The other way we use the word “saint” is the way the Bible uses it. In the Bible the word “saint” is equivalent to the word “Christian”. When Paul writes to the Ephesians he begins the letter by saying “… To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph 1:1). If Paul wrote a letter to us at St. Mark’s he would likely say something like, “To the saints who are in the parish of St. Mark’s”. We are saints because through Jesus we are God’s people. We are also becoming saints because God’s Spirit is transforming us. Paul will also use the word “saint” in this way. Sometimes in Paul’s letters he says something like this, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Rom 1:7). So a “saint” is both what we are and what we are becoming by God’s mercy and grace.

So what is the connection between the saints and people hanging up skeletons in their windows? How I understand Halloween is this. In the ancient Celtic past this was a bit of a fearful time when there were all kinds of creatures and spirits entering into our world and if they weren’t appeased they could do all kinds of nasty things to you. So it was a bit of a fearful time even thought there were elements of harvest celebration. It was a time that focused on death and the frightening mystery of what was waiting us beyond the veil of this life.

As Christians we believe that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has defeated death. Jesus defeated all the creepy crawlies that our European ancestors believed crossed over into our world when winter brought death to the fields and forests. The victory of Christ ultimately gives us reason to laugh at death. Christ's victory over the powers and principalities of this world gives us reason to laugh at all the ghouls and goblins.

Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them to me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." The saints are those who heard the voice of God in this life and have followed that voice. They might face opposition. They might even be killed, but Jesus has made it so that death will not be able to keep its grip on his saints. These saints have faced the powers of the world, and in the world’s eyes they seem to have lost. As the book of Wisdom says, "In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; and their departure is taken for misery, and their going from us to be utter destruction; but they are in peace." They have fallen by sickness, by starvation, thirst, and by the various weapons of this world. But, these saints have not lost. They are the ones who have the true victory. Christ has now given them life that cannot be taken away by hunger, thirst, or any weapon. If anyone can make light of death- if anyone can smile at a skeleton- it is the saints of God, which includes you, by God’s grace. And at Halloween we laugh at the plastic monster, we laugh with the saints at the powers and principalities of this world, and ultimately we can laugh even at death itself. Thanks be to God.



    The prevailing thought of many is that since the Bible was not canonized until sometime between 300 and 400 A.D. that the church of Christ did not have New Covenant Scriptures as their guide for faith and practice. That is simply factually incorrect.

    The Lord's church of the first 400 years did not rely on the man-made traditions of men for New Testament guidance.

    Jesus gave the terms for pardon 33 A.D. after His death and resurrection. (Mark 16:16) All the words of Jesus were Scripture.Jesus did not have to wait for canonization of the New Testament in order for His word to be authorized.

    The terms for pardon were repeated by the apostle Peter 33 A.D. on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:22-42) The teachings of the apostles were Scripture. The words of the apostles were Scripture before they were canonized.

    The apostle Peter said the apostle Paul's words were Scripture. (2 Peter 3:15-16...just as also our beloved brother Paul , according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures...

    The apostle Paul's letters were Scriptures when he wrote them. Paul did not have to wait for canonization to authorize his doctrine.

    John 14:25-26 'These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

    The words and writings of the apostles were Scripture and they did not have to wait for canonization to be deemed authoritative. The apostle did not use man-made creed books of the church or man-made oral traditions to teach the gospel of the New Covenant.

    Did the early church have written New testament Scriptures? Yes, and they were shared among the different congregations. (Colossians 4:16 When the letter is read among you, have it read in the church of the Laodiceans and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodica.) Paul's letters were Scripture and they were read in different churches.

    They were New Testament Scriptures long before they were canonized.


    Matthew A.D. 70
    Mark A.D. 55
    Luke between A.D. 59 and 63
    John A.D. 85
    Acts A.D. 63
    Romans A.D. 57
    1 Corinthians A.D. 55
    2 Corinthians A.D. 55
    Galatians A.D. 50
    Ephesians A.D. 60
    Philippians A.D. 61
    Colossians A. D. 60
    1 Thessalonians A.D. 51
    2 Thessalonians A.D. 51 or 52
    1 Timothy A.D. 64
    2 Timothy A.D. 66
    Titus A.D. 64
    Philemon A.D. 64
    Hebrews A.D. 70
    James A.D. 50
    1 Peter A.D. 64
    2 Peter A.D. 66
    1 John A.D. 90
    2 John A.d. 90
    3 John A.D. 90
    Jude A.D. 65
    Revelation A.D. 95

    All 27 books of the New Testament were Scripture when they were written. They did not have wait until they were canonized before they became God's word to mankind.

    Jesus told the eleven disciples make disciples and teach them all that He commanded. (Matthew 28:16-19) That was A.D. 33, They were teaching New Covenant Scripture from A.D. 33 forward. The apostles did not wait to preach the gospel until canonization occurred 300 to 400 years later.




    1. I agree with you Steve. I have a strong view of the authority and faithfulness of New Testament writers and the Holy Spirit's guidance of those writers.

      Perhaps you were picking up on my reference to the "book of Wisdom". It is in the Apocrypha and it seems to be a book known to the New Testament writers and it seems to have been a part of the Septuagint. So some Christians have it within their bibles. I come from the Anglican tradition and this is what our 39 articles says about the Canon:

      VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
      Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

      Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books.
      Genesis, The First Book of Samuel, The Book of Esther,
      Exodus, The Second Book of Samuel, The Book of Job,
      Leviticus, The First Book of Kings, The Psalms,
      Numbers, The Second Book of Kings, The Proverbs,
      Deuteronomy, The First Book of Chronicles, Ecclesiastes or Preacher,
      Joshua, The Second Book of Chronicles, Cantica, or Songs of Solomon,
      Judges, The First Book of Esdras, Four Prophets the greater,
      Ruth, The Second Book of Esdras, Twelve Prophets the less.

      And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:

      The Third Book of Esdras, The rest of the Book of Esther,
      The Fourth Book of Esdras, ***The Book of Wisdom*** [the one i referred to above],
      The Book of Tobias, Jesus the Son of Sirach,
      The Book of Judith, Baruch the Prophet,
      The Song of the Three Children, The Prayer of Manasses,
      The Story of Susanna, The First Book of Maccabees,
      Of Bel and the Dragon, The Second Book of Maccabees.

      All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.


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