Halloween or All Saints Day?

given on Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween or All Saints Day

Here is the problem:  a Sunday that landed directly on Halloween and the very next day is All Saints Day.  This sets up quite a dilemma when the goal is to put together a meaningful service when everybody knows that the entire country is going bonkers over Halloween.

Now add to this quandary the fact that as I grew up Halloween was played down; in fact, my mom wanted us not to make a to do about it because she felt it was wrong to go beg for candy much less to honor a pagan—or in her terms Satanist—holiday.  Of course living eight miles out of town did not make ‘Trick or Treating’ easy.  It was easier to just stay home, do our homework and then be ready for school the next day.

The only trick or treating that Mom approved was trick or treating for UNICEF.  The youth group would meet at church, pick up the little boxes and head out to ‘trick or treat’ for UNICEF.  Afterwards, there was apple cider or hot cocoa and popcorn ready for us.

But every once and a while Halloween lands on Sunday.  Trick or treating has yet to happen, but many have been celebrating since Friday night.  Woe to the teachers when Monday morning arrives and the kids are on a sugar high or they are too tired to function in class.

I have decided there is no way to pull it all together and keep the focus on God, Jesus, and/or the Holy Spirit.  Instead, I am simply going to tackle the issue piece by piece, so here goes:

First, the lectionary should be a guiding factor, but the problem is that there are two different sets of readings:  (1) four readings for Sunday, October 31, Halloween; and (2) four readings for All Saints Day, November 1 that can be used on October 31 or on the following Sunday, November 7.

In reviewing all these readings and looking ahead at November, I thought surely there would be some connecting pieces, but oh no.  The two sets of reading have different focuses.  Therefore I tackled the internet.  Surely I could find a solution.  My first search was on All Saints Day and that proved interesting and provided a possible approach.  Then the next check is on Halloween, but I decided to make sure to keep the focus on our Methodist beliefs.

By now I begin to realize there is so much about these two holidays that are connected that I really should not try to do one without the other.  The connecting factor is that as Christianity spread north from the Mediterranean coastline, it started blending with the local beliefs in the new territory.   Christianity took a very surprising approach to evangelism; it decided to adapt the local traditions to Christianity rather than fight them.

Now, looking back at the lectionary readings, I am reminded that the early Christians used that primary principle of loving one another despite the others’ beliefs, nationality, or past history.  The Christians worked to follow Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians, which are outlined in chapters 4 and 5.  The study notes in my Life Application Bible states:

Believers should have unity in their commitment to Christi and their use of spiritual gifts.  They should have the highest moral standards.  For the individual, this means rejecting pagan practices, and for the family, this means mutual submission and love. (pg. 2028)

The early Christians who moved north ran into the Celts and the Druids who were pagans by Christian standards.  In order to transition into the community and to make disciples, these earliest Christians took part in the locals’ various practices and began to transform them into a Christian practice.

The Druid harvest festival began in the evening on October 31:  Halloween.  According to the website About.com:  Christianity, Mary Fairchild’s article “What Does the Bible Say About Halloween?” explained the history:

This harvest festival of the Druids ushered in the New Year, beginning on the evening of October 31, with the lighting of bonfires and the offering of sacrifices.  As the Druids danced around the fires, they celebrated the ending of the summer season and the beginning of the season of darkness.  It was also believed that at this time of year the invisible “gates” between the natural world and the spirit world would open, allowing free movement between the two worlds.  (accessed on October 26, 2010)

At this point I began thinking a little differently about Halloween because Fairchild continues explaining that Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day to November 1 (originally it was in mid-May).  This caused October 31 to be termed “All Hallows Eve” since most Christian holidays begin the evening before.  Halloween really is not a celebration of pagan or Satanist beliefs even though one would never know this by today’s consumerism.

The Christian shift of a prominent holiday, All Saints Day, actually became a technique to make disciples of Jesus that transformed the world in which they now lived.  The dilemma of Sunday, October 31, or Halloween service becomes a bridge to understanding.

Even though Methodists do not get into the business of identifying individuals as saints.  The church as the one universal church honors those who have faithfully followed God’s instructions, as outlined in Ephesians and other verses throughout the Bible, on All Saints Day.  In the 8th century, when Pope Gregory III moved the holiday, the Druid festival was transformed.  All Saints Day had celebrated the martyrdom of saints for centuries before Christianity expanded into the Druid culture.

I guess Mom never got a chance to research the development of Christianity.  Oddly enough, the growth of Christianity is also the topic of my current Course of Study (COS) class.  As I learn more about the growth of Christianity, I discover that evangelism is as simple as showing non-believers how to apply love to everyday life.

The dilemma of whether we should be focusing on Halloween or All Saints Day is answered!  I do not have to pick one or the other; I now know that today we can learn from both.  First, Halloween provides us an opportunity to consider just how we live our life within a community where evil exists.  Paul began giving advice to the earliest Christians around the Mediterranean Sea, and we can read it today and still learn how to live a Christian life.

Secondly, the descriptors listed in Ephesians also can help us identify the qualities of the saints that are honored on All Saints Day.  The instructions are clear.  The guidelines for life can be summed up in one line:  love one another.  The personal saints that have filled our lives exemplify these qualities.  The Bible provides a number of verses outlining the behaviors Christians are to demonstrate.

Fairchild listed Ephesians 5:7-12 and Deuteronomy 18:10-12 as additional references to explain how Christians can handle Halloween, but she adds a challenge.  She states:

As Christians, why are we here in this world?  Are we here to live in a safe and protected environment, guarded against the evils in the world, or are we called to reach out into a world filled with dangers and be the light of Christ?  Halloween brings people of the world to our door step.  Halloween brings our neighbors out into the streets.  I can think of various creative ways to seize this opportunity for developing new relationships and sharing my faith.

Is it possible that our negativity toward Halloween only alienates the people we seek to reach?  Can we be in the world, but not of the world?

Today, as we prepare for an evening of people coming to our doorsteps, consider whether we are exemplifying the Christian behaviors we have identified in our personal saints.  Are we following Paul’s guidelines?  Are we living a life that others may one day identify us as a personal saint?

Listen to Paul’s words to the Ephesians as he praised and prayed for them:

15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Today, as we depart and have a little fun with Halloween, do not lose your faith.  Instead, think of ways to spread the news of God’s love.  Maybe you could attach a small tag to the candy bar telling the little ghosts and goblins that God loves them just as you love them.  Maybe you pick a special treat that sends a loving message.  Maybe you ask the little ones to give their parents a special note that invites them to church.  Let the trick or treat tradition be one more way to share God’s love.

And today, thank God for the personal saints who have carefully followed his instructions and became models of Christianity for us to follow.  And as you leave, remember all those personal stories of how our saints helped form us into the Christians we are.  Now it is up to us to continue demonstrating God’s grace to others.  Whether it is in the treats handed out tonight or the prayers you offer or the help you give to someone else, be the Christian your saints modeled for you.

Dear God,

Tonight we open our doors to all the little ghosts, goblins, and characters of trick or treaters.  As we do, help us to share God’s love with them.

Tonight we watch an ancient tradition that has been transformed by early Christians who wanted to share their faith with others.  Let us find ways, too, to share our faith today.

And, as we close the doors, turn off the lights, and lie down for our night’s rest, lift your prayers of thanks for the personal saints who have made such a difference in our lives.

As we wake in the morning, give us the strength to share our faith in God with others who may not know the joy of accepting God’s grace.  –Amen

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