Call to Worship (Isaiah 25:6-9)
Hurricanes and floods and environmental havoc;
drones and IEDs and handguns;
cancer and heart disease and ebola;
poverty and injustice and oppression.
The ways of death in this world are many.
The words of death surround us.
The fear of death envelopes us.
But we come now to hear a different Word,
a true Word
a life-giving Word.
We are here on Isaiah’s mountain
where tears are wiped away,
where a banquet table has been set,
where death has been swallowed up forever.
We do not fully understand it.
We may not fully believe it.
And yet here it is:
the power of Christ’s life within us and among us.
So let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation!
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My youngest daughter and I dressed up as cheetahs last Saturday for “Boo at the Zoo.” I suppose if you saw a real cheetah in the wild it could be frightening. But our cheetah costumes were certainly not scary. I’m not into gory, scary costumes.
But some people are. I’ve seen fierce werewolves and bloody vampires and creepy ghosts wandering the streets. Plenty of costumes that reminded me that Halloween is not really about candy, it’s about death–it is particularly about our fear of death. In many ways, watching horror movies and dressing up as frightening things is a way that we confront our fears; by placing ourselves in the story–even in these imaginary ways–we hope to gain some control over these forces of death that are really uncontrollable.
Scary costumes or not, a lot of people observe Halloween. Not as broadly celebrated in our culture is All Saints Day on November 1, and All Souls Day, on November 2. In the Roman Catholic tradition, All Saints Day is a time to recognize all of the official Church saints–especially ones that may not get a lot of attention otherwise:
St. Columba, patron saint of bookbinders, poets, and Ireland.
St. Lydwina, patron saint of iceskaters
St. Edward the Confessor, patron saint of difficult marriages
St. Blaise, patron saint of throat ailments, veterinarians, and wild animals
And then All Souls day developed within the Church as a time to remember and pray for “normal” people of faith who had recently died. My faith tradition does not recognize formal saints or pray to or for those who have died. But we do remember how the lives of those who have gone before us can strengthen and sustain us in our faith. We do remind ourselves that our loved ones who have died remain alive with God through Christ.
For Christians, Halloween can be a fun celebration–who doesn’t love dressing up and getting free candy? But we do not try to fight death with death. We do not meet violence with violence. We do not try to overcome our fear of the uncontrollable forces of death by participating in the broad story of death.
As Christians, we face our fear of death by participating in the Jesus story. In the story of a God who loves us deeply–so deeply that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In the story of how Jesus overcame the forces of death and violence through the power of the resurrection.
As Christians, we participate in a counter-story. A life-giving story. We seek to live our lives within the power of Christ’s life. And we seek to understand death in the context of the broader story, the bigger story, of eternal life in Christ.