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All Hallows…

As I write, a snuggly Ewok from Star Wars, and a bookish Belle fresh from her dance with the Beast, and Winnie the Pooh’s mopey friend Eeyore are getting ready for a stroll through the neighborhood in search of candy. Sound familiar? Every year we send our children out like beggars vying for sweets to pack in their lunches. When I was a child, my brothers and I competed with each other, not for the best costume, but for the most candy, only to have my mother ration our take giving most of it away to the local food bank. Like many of you, I have fond memories of those Trick-or-Treat adventures- some of the simple moments of childhood. What a delight to invite our LVC children to share that sweet escape into the world of pretend at our Trunk-or-Treat event last Saturday. Yet, as a pastor I sometimes wonder at our choice as a church to participate in pagan rituals that originate from a time before the birth of Christ. Consider the roots of our modern Halloween.

For Druids in the land we now call Ireland, the celebration of Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced ‘SAH-win’) on October 31st marked the end of summer and the final harvest of the season. This Celtic New Year signaled the beginning of winter when nature turned barren, and darkness descended on the land. Following the rhythms of nature, these Celtic peoples associated the New Year with death. They believed that the veil between the living and the dead would lift on October 31st , allowing the dead to walk the earth that night. Those ancient celebrations of Samhain were not delightful moments of imaginative play, but desperate attempts to fend off evil. Bon fires were set, and Jack-oLanterns lit to light the night and ward off evil spirits. People donned costumes and masks to hide from the spirits, hoping to scare away all that was scary. Could they trick the spirits? Or would sweet treats left on the doorstep entice the spirits to leave their home unscathed? Are you beginning to see how those ancient pagan rituals, birthed out of fear, have given rise to our modern-day Halloween practices?

As Christianity spread into Celtic lands, the church attempted to supplant pagan rituals with Christian celebrations, yet the practices of Samhain were deeply ingrained in the traditions and psyche of the Celtic people. What could be more powerful than ghosts walking the earth? Who could stand against evil and win the day? In the 700s, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as All Saints Day, the celebration of those who walked by faith with the Savior of the world. Who better to stand against the evil of this world than those who walked with the One who conquered death? With the celebration of all the ‘hallowed’ ones (hallow is old English for ‘holy’) on November 1st, the evening before would become All Hallow’s Eve- in our modern parlance- Halloween. The practices of Samhain did not end, but over time they were recast with a different worldview. The bon fires and jack-o-lanterns became reminders of the One who is the light of the world, who brings light into our darkness. In many Christian traditions, the Easter vigil begins with a bonfire to light the night. Trick-or-treating became known as “souling” when children would go door to door asking for soul cakes in exchange for prayers for the dead. And in time, those costumes meant to scare the dead, became harmless expressions of childhood play. Today, most of us have no thought of those Halloween roots as we hand out candy to the neighborhood children.

But I am wondering today if we ought to remember those Halloween roots. Every news story we hear these days declares the power of evil, from the horrors of a war in Israel-Palestine, to the tentacles of hate that are touching our communities and threatening our children. We have leaders who cannot see beyond their own self-interest to find a healing path for our community and our nation. Even the weather forecast declares the brokenness of our world. I look at my beautiful granddaughters and grieve the world that I am giving to them. Is there any peace to be found in this day… any hope for their future? Every night, the news concludes with a happy story, but after all the horrors of the day, one happy story seems ill-equipped to turn the tide. We need the Savior, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the One who is Mighty God and Prince of Peace. We need the One who conquered death. As our world declines into a darkness of apocalyptic proportions, today we need to remember the early church’s declaration that the Savior of the world and His people can stand strong against evil. The Light of the world, and those who are called to be His light in the world, can bring light even into the darkness of this day. Now is not the time for fear and passive acceptance of the horrors of the day. Instead, today is All Hallow’s Eve, the call to God’s holy ones to stand in His light, to trust His light, to be His light, to bring His light- into every dark corner. Hallowed ones, be His light today wherever God has placed you.

With you, learning to shine with Him,
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