By Linda Rex
Wednesday night I stood in front of the church building near the road with Maria, and later with Betty, so I could hand out candy and invite people in for cocoa and cookies. It was fun to see the kids in their costumes, and to appreciate the efforts of their parents to see that the kids were kept safe while they trick-or-treated.
I was reminded of how when I was a kid, my parents did not observe Halloween. We watched the kids go by, having left the lights off in the front of the house so they wouldn’t ring the doorbell. When we could sneak out, brothers and I liked to hide in the camelia bushes and ferns in front of the house so we could startle those who walked by. I don’t think we were ever very successful in our efforts, though.
My parents were diligent in their efforts to please God, and since they believed Halloween was a pagan holiday which celebrated darkness and evil, they didn’t want anything to do with it. I can appreciate their heart with regards to wanting to do what was right in God’s sight, but I have since learned that the Halloween we celebrate today is different than what was originally on the Christian calendar. Halloween was converted to Christian use in conjunction with All Saints’ Day.
All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) occurs the night before All Saints’ Day, which occurs every year on November 1. All Saints’ Day is celebrated by many traditions as a day to honor faithful believers who have died. For example, the Episcopal Church in America says this feast commemorates all saints, known and unknown. They consider All Saints’ Day to be one of the seven principal feasts of the church year, and one of the four days recommended for the administration of baptism. Many churches celebrate All Saints’ Day the Sunday following November 1 rather than on that date which often falls in the middle of the week. All Saints’ Day is meant to be a time when believers celebrate the miracle of the resurrection, in that those who have already died are safely at home with Jesus because of what he did in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
The All Hallows’ Eve celebration which occurs the night before All Saints’ Day was originally intended to make a mockery of the powers of darkness and evil. Death has no real power any more because Jesus entered death and penetrated it down to its very core and exited the other side in glory, taking our human nature with him. The apostle Paul celebrated what Christ accomplished for us in 1 Cor. 15:20-22: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” We often read this section of Scripture at funerals because we need to be reminded of our hope.
We are freed from death’s power once and for all in and by Jesus Christ! As Paul wrote: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:51-57 NASB).
There is a victory over sin and death which is ours in Jesus Christ. It is only right to celebrate the miracle of what Jesus has done for us. Death and sin have, in reality, reached their end—their time of influence and power are over, even though we still experience their effects in this life. The hurt that comes when we lose a loved one is real—we were not created for separation but for union and communion. But we must always remember, this life is not the end. It was never meant to be. In Christ and because of Christ, there is life beyond the grave.
The early Christians faced death often—they were persecuted, tortured, and martyred for their belief in Jesus. Yet even the weakest of them, and the women and children, bravely faced such horrific experiences because of their strong belief that in Christ, death wasn’t the end. Death, and the suffering which went with it, was only a door they would go through so they could once again be with Jesus. Even though death and suffering to us are horrific and awful, to those who trust in Christ they are merely passing birth pangs in preparation to our birth into our glorified humanity.
When I worked at the nursing home, death was part of the normal course of events. We cared for people, and when it was their time (and sometimes when it seemed it wasn’t), they moved on. Death for anyone left behind is not easy. We know death is a time to celebrate their new birth, not just to grieve our own loss. But it is still hard, and it is still painful.
Lately I have found myself unaccountably brought to tears or deep sadness. The truth is, I am grieving, and have been grieving for some time—grieving the loss of several very dear people and important relationships. Over the years I have lost my parents, grandparents, and my father-in-law, and some close friends. I have lost companions in the faith, and dearly loved members of my congregations. Each of these people held a special place in my heart and I miss them. My life has not been the same since they left. I have moved on, but I still feel their loss.
Sometimes we are angry with those who have left because they didn’t take better care of themselves, or because they left everything in a horrible mess, or because they were such an integral part of our lives, we don’t know how to go on without them. We feel guilty about being angry, but anger is what we must feel and deal with before we can move on. Death is a violation and an invasion of our peace and our safety, and such violations naturally create anger. We use that anger to deal with what is—the reality of our loss—and we, step by agonizing step—move on into a new place. We create a new existence which doesn’t involve those who are gone in the same way.
Halloween can remind us that evil, sin, and death are destined to come to a complete end because of Jesus. All Saints’ Day can remind us that moving on with our lives doesn’t necessarily mean we move on without those we love. The truth is we are all connected to one another in Jesus Christ. And that connection doesn’t end when someone dies. In reality, death cannot in any way separate us from one another, for we are all one in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus took on our humanity, he did not only take on the humanity of good people. He did not just die bearing the humanity of good people. He took on every person’s humanity, becoming sin for us, in our place, on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Jesus in our place and on our behalf, stands in glory today, bearing our humanity—which has been cleansed and glorified. This is our hope, and our expectation, and our joy. This is what we celebrate!
Dear Abba, thank you that in the face of evil and death we have hope. Thank you that we can trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ to bring us beyond death into our new life in him. Thank you that you are with us in the midst of grief and sorrow and will carry us through our pain and loss into a new existence. We trust in your faithfulness and love, in Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;/A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,/And refined, aged wine./And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,/Even the veil which is stretched over all nations./He will swallow up death for all time,/And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,/And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;/For the LORD has spoken./And it will be said in that day,/‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us./This is the LORD for whom we have waited;/Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’” Isaiah 25:6–9 NASB
by Linda Rex
This week I saw a couple episodes of the new series about the Flash. This young man is busily going about his life, dealing with the issues of loss and grief, when he gets caught up in a story that is bigger than himself. Because of a freak accident he becomes imbued with the superhuman ability to run faster than the speed of sound. He begins to use this ability to help others and to make his world a better place, and hopes to right the wrong that caused the great hurt in his life.
At same time that he was gifted with great powers, he finds that others have been gifted too, only their hearts and wills are bent on evil and death. He then has to come to terms with the reality that perhaps he is the only one who can stand between them and the utter destruction of all that is sane and good in his city.
I think it is interesting that ever since I can remember, we as humans have been fascinated with the idea of there being people out there who are superhuman in their abilities and are able to rescue us from destruction and danger. It seems that we never grow tired of the concept of a savior. But we want that savior to have human qualities like ours—be prone to the weaknesses and faults and insecurities of our humanity. We want to be able to identify with him or her in a real way.
I’ve noticed, too, especially in the more recent creations of superheroes for the big screen, there is a concerted effort to place them within the context of relationships. Even though they may have to hide their true identity, we find that they struggle to exist outside of relationships. There is at least one love relationship or perhaps a family relationship in which they grew up. In these particular relationships they find their unique qualities as a person, not just those as a superhero, accepted and loved.
We as humans are also fascinated by, and appalled by, the concept of evil. Not just an evil as in a bad thing or a bad day, but a deeper evil—something hideous, horrendous and horrifying. The current fascination with the supernatural tells me that instinctively, we all know there is a deeper story—something greater than ourselves that we’ve all gotten caught up in. And there is someone or something out there who opposes all that is good and fine and right.
Today is Halloween, a holiday I as a young child was never allowed to celebrate. I was told that it was a celebration of all that was evil. Actually, as I learned later in life, it is a celebration initiated by the Christian church to celebrate all the saints who died before and how all that is dark must, in this new morning, give way to the Light that has come in Jesus Christ. It ridiculed the powers of evil—mocking them and proclaiming that they no longer hold sway in the world.
In his resurrection from the grave, Jesus defeated all the powers of darkness. The devil, death, sin, evil, no longer have a place in this world. They may act like they do. They may still frighten us and hurt us. But in reality, their reign is over. Jesus has triumphed. No matter how much they may try to ruin our lives and destroy our faith and twist our souls, Satan and his minions have no power over us. In the end, we are held safely in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit.
Sadly, in our ignorance and stubborn refusal to submit to the Lord of all things, we can give our gifts and our lives to the service of evil. This happens all over the world and in each of our lives to some small extent. We can cater to our old human ways of doing things, of thinking and being, and deny the God who loves us and came for us. But this does not change what God has done for us and will do for us as we surrender our lives and wills to him.
God came himself into our humanity to rescue us. He didn’t give us a superhero with flaws and weaknesses, but gave us himself—God in human flesh. He understands all our faults and flaws and forgives them. He is our Father, our Brother, our Friend, our Lover—all the relationships that matter most in our life have their source and life in him. He has committed himself to us, united himself with us, forever—he is inextricably linked with us with a bond we cannot break, even though we may reject it.
Whatever we are facing, he will come to rescue us. Maybe not on our time plan or in our scheme of things, but he has ensured that we have a place with him, in his presence, forever. Hold tight to the God who made you, and who rescued you in Jesus. He has come for you and he will come for you. Never doubt it for a moment. Because he loves you and does not want to live in eternity without you. The darkness may seem overwhelming at the moment, but the morning will come and the Light will dawn.
Thank you, God, for coming for us, for not leaving us in our darkness and depravity. Thank you for rescuing us in Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for your perfect love and gift of grace. We praise you. Holy Spirit, we expectantly await your finished work of conforming us to the image of Christ. We celebrate the Light you have brought us. Do destroy the works of darkness. In you the evil one has no power over us any longer, for we surrender fully to you, God, and submit ourselves to your will in everything. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:9–10