Happy All Hallows Eve!

JesusPumpkin.jpg

All Hallows Eve is the vigil before the feast of All Saints. The feast of All Saints commemorates all those who the church has identified as exemplary in their life with God.  We celebrate their victory in the battle against darkness and evil and we are challenged and encouraged by their example and we look for their prayers to sustain and help us in our own fight.

In this context the ghoulish symbolism of Halloween can be seen less as a glorification of evil, and more as an acknowledgment of it. In the medieval cathedrals we are often surprised by the presence of monsters, devils and ghouls. These are not there as fantasy flourishes for decorative effect, but as reminders of the very real nature of our spiritual existence; we are arrayed in battle against a host of enemies who are opposed to God and to good in the world.

Yet the Christian religion is not dualistic – we do not see the spiritual forces of good and evil as equal. The devil is only a created being, a rebellious creature, but still a creature. There is no sense in which he is outside the control of God.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christian faith teaches us that all that opposes God is now defeated. That victory has to be finally expressed, but it is fully won. Therefore the evil images of Halloween are man’s to ridicule as defeated and dethroned.

Yet All Hallows Eve is important.

Saints and angels cannot teach the theological truth of the dragon and the gargoyle. Halloween, if true to this purpose, debases the macabre by playful ritual. The eradication of ghosts and goblins from Halloween does not perforce safeguard the spiritual and the holy. Though often dismissed as uncouth, fiends and phantoms are emblems of spiritual warfare—and of the victory already won in Christ. Without such reminders, communities may be lulled to sleep, allowing the reality of evil to become more powerful in the neglectful silence.[1]

 

The celebration of the saintly dead was a very early practice within the church. We have the first attested evidence from around 150-160 A.D. in the Martyrdom of Polycarp;

Therefore, the centurion, seeing the strife that had risen among the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire and burned it.

Thus we, having afterwards taken up his bones, more valuable than precious stones, laid them where it was suitable.

There, so far as is allowed us, when we are gathered together in exultation and joy, the Lord will enable us to celebrate the birthday of the martyrs, both for the memory of those who have contended, and for the exercise and preparation of those to come.[2]

 

It is here we see expressed the two-fold purpose of All Saints;

  • As a celebration and commemoration of those who have lived well with God.
  • As a challenge and a preparation for our own lives and our participation in the same battle against evil.

As the first examples of such a practice within the church was linked to local saints and martyrs, the dates varied. Eventually these diverse local celebrations were brought together in the feast of All Saints. This was again very early, the first account being from St Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373).

All Saints is also a concrete expression of the Christian belief in the Communion of the Saints. This theology expresses the understanding that all those who turn to God – who accept the message of Jesus and turn to him, placing their trust in him – are linked both to God and to each other in a way that goes beyond both time and space.

Nothing can separate us from God when we have placed our trust in Jesus;

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.[3]

 

If nothing can separate us from God, then nothing can separate us from each other. Extending this, as God exists outside of time in an eternal present, then everyone who has ever, or will ever, turn to Jesus in faith, is already united to God and to each other in a community of faith; the family of God.

All Saints is an affirmation and a celebration of the eternal communion that exists between all those who follow Christ and who can never be separated from each other.

We see glimpses of this expressed in the New Testament. In Hebrews the image of a games arena is used. Those Christians who are currently living are the athletes contending in the games and they are being cheered on by those saints who are already in the presence of God. Their watchful encouragement and prayerful support should motivate us, stimulate us, and inspire us to do greater exploits in our battle for God and for good.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.[4]

 

The placement of the feast of All Saints in the Christian calendar is significant. After the feast of Pentecost – the birthday of the Church – the liturgical calendar enters into the period known as ‘the Church on earth’ and moves to the culmination of the liturgical calendar with the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe.

This period of the calendar is the time of gathering, of harvest, as the Church in its mission to the world gathers new souls into the Kingdom of Christ and so weakens and depletes the already defeated enemy that stands arrayed against us.

This is where All Hallows Eve sits in the drama of human salvation.

It reminds us of the battle in which we are engaged, the very real enemy we face, the fact of our brief life and certain death, the longing for eternal life that often slips from our minds.

All Hallows Eve is useful in that it brings us face to face with the reality of death and evil. Yet it does so in a way that does not bring fear, but rather inspires courage and resolve. Death exists because of sin. Yet death is defeated in Christ and becomes for us merely a translation to an eternal existence with God.

Without death, there would be no saints in heaven.

Without Christ, man would have no right to ridicule the devil.[5]

 

The garish nonsense of All Hallows Eve can actually be understood as a reminder and a proclamation that death is stripped of his sting since the dominion of hell has been overthrown.

Halloween celebrates Christ’s triumph through parody—or exultant mockery—subjecting the symbols of the grave to satirical derision. Witches, devils, ghouls, skeletons, and such spooks become caricatures of an impotent evil. Followers of Christ are conquerors, and no longer slaves, of these elemental creatures. There is no fear in them, which Halloween rejoices in.[6]

 

Perhaps it is helpful to conclude by thinking of the psychological usefulness of All Hallows Eve.

Human beings deal with fear in three ways – scaring, lulling and making mock.

 

Scaring – We utter our fear, we describe it, and this helps us to deal with it.

Playing with the fear can help us not to be terrified of the thing itself.

“Being scared by a story or an image can deliver ecstatic relief from the terror that the thing itself would inspire if it were to appear for real.”[7]

 

Lulling – Our fears can also be lulled. Perhaps most clearly this is seen in songs – lullabies. These songs deal with fear by confronting its possibilities, and these include the unknown destiny that lies ahead for the baby.

Lullabies don’t deny the reality of that which we fear, but they give us confidence to face it knowing that we do not face it alone.

“Lullabies weave a protective web of words and sounds against raiders who come in the night, against marauders real and fantastic, and against the future and the dangers it holds.

The singer keeps vigil at the same time as hushing the baby to sleep.”[8]

 

Making Mock – Comedy both serves to ease the fear and to bring that which is feared into view. What we fear as a culture is often revelatory. The medieval Christians feared hell but not death. We fear death but not hell. But also our fears show us our goals;

“Fears trace a map of a society’s values;

we need fear to know who we are and what we do not want to be.”[9]

 

All Hallows Eve is therefore an important festival for Christians to celebrate. It reminds us of our mortality, of the spiritual conflict in which we are engaged, of the victories other Christians have won and which – in God’s grace – are achievable for us too, it teaches us that all that stands opposed to us is already defeated in Christ and we can laugh at it – all its strutting and roaring is only its death throes.

 

An All Saints’ Day Prayer

How shining and splendid are your gifts, O Lord

which you give us for our eternal well-being

Your glory shines radiantly in your saints, O God

In the honour and noble victory of the martyrs.

 

The white-robed company follow you,

bright with their abundant faith;

They scorned the wicked words of those with this world’s power.

For you they sustained fierce beatings, chains, and torments,

they were drained by cruel punishments.

They bore their holy witness to you

who were grounded deep within their hearts;

they were sustained by patience and constancy.

 

Endowed with your everlasting grace,

may we rejoice forever

with the martyrs in our bright fatherland.

 

O Christ, in your goodness,

grant to us the gracious heavenly realms of eternal life.

 

Unknown author, 10th century

 

[1] Sean FITZPATRICK, All Hallows Eve or Halloween? In Crisis Magazine, October 4, 2013 accessed online at http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/all-hallows-eve-or-halloween on 31/10/16

[2] C H HOOLE (trans) Martyrdom of Polycarp accessed online at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/martyrdompolycarp-hoole.html on 31/10/16

[3] Romans 8:35, 37-39 NIVUK

[4] Hebrews 12:1-2 NIVUK

[5] Sean FITZPATRICK, The Horrific Hedonism of Halloween, accessed online at http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/10/horrific-hedonism-halloween-sean-fitzpatrick.html on 31/10/16

[6] Sean FITZPATRICK, Reclaim All Hallows’ Eve, 31 October 2013, accessed online at http://catholicexchange.com/reclaim-all-hallows-eve on 31/10/16

[7] Mariner WARNER, No Go the Bogeyman, New York : Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998, p6

[8] ibid. p16

[9] ibid., p387

Advertisements