It's that time of year again. The time of year when Christians get nervous about how the church assimilated pagan practices centuries ago as we try to find ways to feel better while still allowing our kids to enjoy a night of costumes, candy, and fun. We've got harvest festivals, fall festivals, even Reformation Day events. My church did a trunk-or-treat event tonight all with no official mention of Halloween. Its enough to make you wonder. . .
There have been rivers of ink used to justify why Christians should or shouldn't celebrate Halloween, and maybe someday I'll cast my opinion upon those waters, but that's not what I want to talk about tonight. Instead, I would like to point out that Halloween is actually All Hallows' Eve. In other words, like Christmas Eve is to Christmas, Halloween is just the prelude to what should be celebrated the next day. Now, if you're like me, you aren't necessarily all that familiar with All Hallows' Day. Growing up in a Baptist church, I was taught all believers are saints because they have been made holy by the blood of Christ but that we don't pray to them or have special days to celebrate them. In liturgical traditions like Roman Catholicism, Orthodox, and Anglicanism major saints have their own days when they are celebrated by the church. But All Hallows' Day (also called All Saints' Day or Hallowmas) is a catch all for all those saints that don't have their own day or have been forgotten by the official church.
At this point, I can see the raised eyebrows and the uncomfortable shifting in chairs. Let me say that I'm not advocating that we start praying to saints, but if we're going to go to such pains to sanitize Halloween we would do well to take a look the day that gives Halloween its significance. Here's why. . .
The stories of the saints are an encouragement to us in our daily lives. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." The great cloud of witnesses the author is talking about was a long list of saints from the previous chapter (also known as the Hall of Faith). We are now some 2,000 years distant from the writing of that chapter and the list of Christian heroes has continued to expand from that day to this. What God did in their lives stands as a testimony to us of his continued presence and activity in the everyday and the mundane. As a nation, we celebrate our fallen heroes on Memorial Day because it is an encouragement and reminder to us of how to act in the worst of times. In the same way, we should celebrate and honor those who have lived faithful lives to ensure that you and I might hear the Gospel.
The stories of the saints connect us with God's acts in history. American culture today is all about the new. What's the newest gadget, celebrity, show, song, car, fashion - the list goes on and on. Sure there is a fetish for vintage things, but I think the reality is that those select desirable things are rare and so have value and create a certain status in the now. But for most things, newer is seen as better. One side effect of this craving for the new is a disconnect from what came before. In the past century there has been more change than in all the centuries before it combined and we have been left with a kind of cultural amnesia. By revisiting what God has done in the lives of his people in history, we renew our understanding that we exist at the end of a great chain of blessing and that every new generation forms a new link in that chain.
The stories of the saints prove the faithfulness of God. I'm relatively certain that if you've made it this far you're probably envisioning the stories of the great heroes of the faith when I mention the stories of the saints. The short answer is, not so much. Those stories are wonderful and should be told, but I'm really more interested in the millions of believers who have gone before us who followed in the footsteps of Christ while living normal lives - the people that our grandparents knew and looked up to when they were young in the faith. Exodus 34:7 and Deuteronomy 7:9 both state that God shows favor to "a thousand generations" of those who love him and keep his commands. I am blessed to have a detailed family tree on my dad's side that goes back eleven generations before me (into the mid-1600's!!). We have stories beginning with the first Bell to come to America and for nearly each one we know that they were devout Christians and often leaders in their churches. My relationship with God is in part a product of their love for and faithfulness to God. I do not have a testimony of how God saved me out of some dire situation like drug addiction or worse. Instead, pointing to those verses in Exodus and Deuteronomy, my testimony is of the faithfulness of God to my family over centuries.
So let me ask, who did God use to bring you to Christ? Who do you know that changed the world in some small way because of their willingness to follow God? Who has inspired you by their life of faith? Who are you thankful for? On November 1, let me encourage you to remember them, thank God for them, and share their stories with your friends and loved ones.
Happy Hallowmas, everyone!
Note: The word Hallowmas is not my invention. It is an old usage and shares a common origin with the word Christmas. Hallow means holy (Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. . .) and was a term for a saint (saint comes from sanctus, the latin word meaning holy) so the mass that was said on All Hallows' Day was known as Hallowmas.