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
It was almost Christmas Day and I was listening to yet another Christmas carol. The thought came to my mind that a lot of these Christmas songs, and the movies that come out this time of year, are about winter and specifically, snow. What’s the big deal about snow, anyway?
Well, I’m sure there are a lot of reasons that snow is considered an important part of people’s celebration of this day. But the reason I like the idea of snow being associated with Jesus’ birth is that it is a reminder that Jesus came to give all of us a new start.
It’s like when the dirty dingy sidewalks and the brown grass suddenly disappear under a thick coat of new snow. When everything is caught in the silent beauty of a falling snow that is covering everything with glittering whiteness, it’s easy to believe that there are new possibilities for life. All of a sudden we see things in a new way.
God calls us to the joy and wonder of a new start when he says: “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) Christ’s life was all about new beginnings, about giving each of us a clean slate.
Here we pause at the beginning of a New Year, a new year full of new possibilities and new beginnings. Each of us has been given another year in which to live life to the fullness in a relationship of love with the Father, Son and Spirit and with one another. We look out onto a yard full of snowy whiteness and we consider what we will do.
There are so many possibilities! Some of us will run out in our snowboots and hats and will start making snowmen and snow angels. Some of us will complain about the mess and get out our snowblowers to get rid of the snow. Some of us will just sit and gaze on the snow through the windows, wistfully wishing we could enjoy it. And some of us will go out and start a snowball fight.
In every case, we find that we are given the opportunity to do something new in our lives. We have the opportunity to be creative and build something, or do something useful with what’s been given. We can be productive and helpful or wasteful and destructive. We can experience joy and have fun in the midst of the new life God has given us, or we can wallow in negativity.
What will your New Year be like? My wish for all of you is that you will experience in a deep, real way the Presence of God in your lives each and every day of this New Year, and that as you walk with the Triune God, you will grow in his faith, hope and love. May you experience God’s fullest blessings in 2016!
Holy God, thank you for wiping our slate clean and giving us a new start. Thank you that we can experience new beginnings all the time—with each new day, month and year, even each moment—because of what you have done for us in your Son. Give us the heart to offer this same grace to each person in our lives as you offer it to us. Through Jesus and in your Spirit we pray. Amen.
“There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NASB
by Linda Rex
Some parents come up with the most unusual ways of having fun with their kids. One such crazy idea often suggested for April Fool’s Day is to have a “Backwards Day”. On this day, everything would be done backwards—clothes are put on backwards, people walk backwards, and so on. Of course, there are limits to what’s practical, but it puts a real wacky spin on everything when you try to do it all backwards.
I think our expectation that certain things go only one direction affects us in more ways than just how we put our clothes on in the morning. It also affects the way we think about God and each other, and how we approach living our daily lives.
For example, when we believe that the spiritual dimension does not exist, or that it exists totally apart from the physical dimension we experience moment by moment, then believing in any god or a god who truly loves us is very difficult. That side of our existence isn’t something that is tangible, that can be seen, felt or heard in the way we normally hear, see or experience things.
From our point of view, and from this side of the story, it is next to impossible to have any comprehension of some reality other than our own. This is because the spiritual dimension is so completely other than us. It is non-human and seems to exist apart from us. Looking from our perspective, we can believe the spiritual realities don’t exist at all.
And yet, there is an inner sense in most of us that there is much more to this life than just what we see and experience in our daily lives. We often feel drawn to something beyond us, to a greater good and a greater life than what we have at the moment. The incredible beauty of a glowing sunset, the tinkling sound of a babbling brook and the majesty of a snow-covered summit all point to something tremendous and wonderful. John Eldredge, in his books, calls these glimpses of heaven, of the Garden of Eden that was once ours.
It is as though something inside us is calling us to a deeper reality—a life beyond this human existence. And yet, our concepts of a life beyond this life are too often just the idea of a heaven where we fly away into some spiritual bliss, floating above the clouds and playing harps or being absorbed into a nebulous ethereal oneness.
But the writers of the New Testament scriptures present a different picture. They say a tangible change took place, and takes place even now, in our human existence. It’s a change not only in our being as humans, but also in all of the created cosmos. It has to do with the permanent union between all that is spiritual and all that is human and created by God.
If indeed the One who is spiritual and eternal and totally other than us entered our human existence and become one of us as a human being, lived among us, died as we died and then lived again, then humanity has a whole new basis for its existence. Death is no longer the end, but rather the ushering in of a whole new way of being. All that it means to be human is no longer the same.
Now we have new possibilities. That which is wholly other than us, which is supreme self-giving love and mercy, is now a part of our humanity. We are capable now, because of that divine life within us by the Spirit, of being truly loving and merciful. No longer should we say that we are powerless before anything that binds or destroys us—because we carry within us the new humanity Jesus Christ labored so hard to give us, and we are joined with one another in a true oneness and unity that is beyond our physical humanity.
This means there are new possibilities in our relationships. When there is hostility, division, anger, resentment—we can step back and realize that we share a common humanity and that there is something, rather Someone, within that person who is also within us. We can find within us the capacity for mercy, compassion and kindness that never existed before. The source of these things is the same Source of our human existence and he shares with us everything we need to be the human beings we were meant to be—so we may be a true reflection of the Divine One.
We can go through life believing that none of this is true. We can live as though there are no spiritual realities that are fundamental to our existence. But when we do that we are missing out on real life—we are living in an empty way that will come to an abrupt end when we die. At death, when we come face to face with the One who even now bears our glorified humanity, what will we say? How will we cope with the reality of living eternally within the scope of human existence determined by Jesus Christ?
If we are living that life now—living daily and moment by moment in an ongoing relationship with the One who lives his life in us through the Spirit—then the transition will be joyful and pleasant. We will be thrilled and excited about the possibilities ahead of us.
If we refuse to believe and receive the spiritual realities that exist for us in Jesus Christ, death for us will be quite a shock, especially when we realize that the only things we can carry into the next life are our relationships with God and each other and the quality of the character God has been able to work into our nature. Our blindness to the spiritual realities will leave us in a dark void—like the utter blackness Jesus describes. Our God, who is a consuming fire, will in his great love for us, refuse to leave us in our darkness and separateness, so his work to transform us and bring us into communion with him will seem much like a scorching flame to those who refuse to believe.
But what does any of this have to do with everyday life? With playing silly games with our kids? With trying to pay our bills and with keeping our marriage strong?
All of life can be lived even now in view of the spiritual realities that are ours in Jesus. We are already able to participate in a personal relationship with the God who made us and redeemed us. And we are able, even now, to experience the benefits of that relationship through prayer and through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives and relationships. We have God’s wisdom for daily decisions, and God’s power to change our circumstances and to provide for our needs. And that’s a great way to live!
Thank you, Lord, for the new life we have available to us even now in Jesus Christ and by your Spirit. Awaken us to the spiritual realities, to your indwelling presence. Show us all the ways you are working in us and in our world to transform and heal and guide us. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17