It’s Halloween. I don’t like it – ghoulish costumes and a fascination with all things spooky. Every year when the ‘guisers’ come calling I’m so tempted to turn down the lights and pretend I’m out. But not this year! I decided it was time I redeemed this festival for Jesus. So, I was going to be ready with lights on, a loving generous welcome, sweets and gentle words. Sadly, tonight we probably won’t have any callers because of COVID-19 restrictions!
Of course, my sentiment is not new. Halloween itself is a redemption of the Shamhain ( Sa-wen) celebration of the dead. Yes, in the old Gaelic calendar October 31st was the end of the harvest period, and November 1st marked the beginning of winter, that dark cold time associated with death. The Celts believed the veil between the physical and spiritual world was at its thinnest as the seasons changed; dead spirits could roam freely.
Food was put outside for hungry ancestors making their way home, and the turnip lantern on the doorstep offered protection by warding off malevolent marauders. Even the ‘dis-guising’ was a way of blending in with witches and ghouls, so as not to attract their attention. There was much fear of evil spirits in our pagan past involving sacrifices of crops, animals and even humans.
All Saints Day
With the coming of Christianity, over time the festival for the dead became ‘All Saints Day’, a time to remember martyrs and past saints, followed by ‘All Souls Day’ when the dead were prayed out of purgatory! The evening was a time of preparation with prayer and fasting before the feast itself. As our culture slips further and further from our Christian heritage, Halloween reverts to Sa-wen and its grotesque pagan roots.
It was no accident that Martin Luther chose October 31st to nail his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg in 1517. This act that triggered the Reformation tackled, among others, doctrines connected to Halloween. For example, Protestants came to understand that ‘saints’ in the New Testament includes all believers; we are all anointed by the Holy Spirit. Also, prayers for salvation should be made for the living not the dead.
So, how can we relate to Halloween as celebrated in our culture today? Many who don’t believe in God, now believe in Evil. As society rejects Christ, fear and anxiety increase. Religion seems devoid of power and occult practices like fortune telling and tarot readings become more prevalent. Many who would never come into a church building consider themselves ‘spiritual’. We mustn’t miss the opportunity Halloween offers to share and pray for people in Jesus’ name.
This is not the time to turn down the lights and pretend to be out. We need to shine our light brighter than ever. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it ( John 1: 5). Love conquered death when Jesus nailed our condemnation to the cross and disarmed the evil forces (Colossians 2:14-15). We have nothing to fear from Halloween. Satan and his demons may not be finally destroyed, but they are disarmed. We are living in the Gospel age when God is gathering saints from every tribe and nation.
I love the colours of autumn and the variety of produce. These symbols of fruitfulness all remind us of God’s wonderful creation and caring provision. Autumn harvest speaks of Jesus gathering people to himself and encouraging his disciples to pray for more helpers. He said, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’ (Matthew 9:37). Autumn may be ending but harvest time continues.
Celebrating the Dead
As we serve Christ we have a whole cloud of witnesses, saints who have gone before us, cheering us on (Hebrews 12:1). Yes, the veil is thin as the coming Kingdom of Heaven overlaps with the kingdom of this world. The church includes Christians past and present, local and worldwide. Let’s celebrate and remember the saints of old, biblical and historical, the martyrs past and those presently suffering persecution. Let’s reflect and be thankful for those who have blessed and impacted our faith journey. May their example of love and faithful witness to the truth of God’s Word and the power of the Gospel inspire us this Halloween.