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Monday, October 25, 2021

160 All Hallows Eeen

    (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for “All Hallows Eeen”, originally shared on October 25, 2021. It was the 160th video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

   The Halloween festival is coming-up next Sunday, the same day as Reformation Day. The two celebrations happen on the same day this year and, at least in modern times, they couldn’t be farther apart. Today, we’ll find out why.

   In John chapter 8, starting with the 31st verse, we read

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

   Did Jesus say, “the truth will make you free”? It’s a phrase often thrown up in Christian’s faces to support someone’s personal cause. It’s a way to say that what they believe is the truth and Christians better get with the program because Jesus said, “the truth will make you free”.

   But did Jesus say that? Jesus did say it, but not in the way most people think. He said it in a way that has a lot to do with the way we celebrate Halloween. It’s not what most people think, at least not in its origins.

   The customs of our celebration of Halloween have been rooted in the beliefs of a time in Europe when people who had been saved were moving out of paganism and were seeing the world with a Christian worldview.

   Elements of pagan rites to appease the lord of death and evil spirits at the end of summer were being recast as a festival of life. Dressing up as evil spirits to disguise themselves and hide from them was becoming dressing up as evil spirits to mock them.

   You know those round glowing things above the heads of certain people in Christian art? That’s right, “halo’s”. They are there to show that the person under them is a saint, or holy, or hallowed, as in “hallowed be thy name”.

   All Saints Day was called, therefore, All Hallows Day in those times. The night before this day was All Hallows Eve, shortened over time, to Halloween.

   People during this time in the Middle Ages believed that the forces that defy God were allowed to come out at night to scare Christians.

   Christians would dress up to mock them and to mock-scare each other.

   Those forces were required to return to whatever hole they came from at midnight, because that was the beginning of All Saints Day.

   They were mocked in those days. Today, in our secular society, people celebrate them, pretending that scary things are fun. Yet some people are frightened, especially when left alone.

    Now it has gotten very dark and is way more about what adults want than about what children want. Halloween used to be about candy, carved pumpkins and children in simple costumes. Children have difficulty separating what they see from what they feel or what is true. They don’t enjoy being scared.

   People in our times decorate their lawns, they invest in elaborate costumes, they go to horror movies and torture houses. Terror as entertainment. They spend an enormous amount of money on the decorations, the parties, the costumes, etc. In fact, Americans will spend 10.14 billion dollars on Halloween costumes, decorations, candy and greeting cards this year, a record.

   Christmas season spending is about 10 times that, but very little of Christmas spending is done as a specifically Christian activity anymore.

   Author William Peter Blatty has a character, in The Exorcist say, “God never talks. But the devil keeps advertising, Father. The devil does a lot of commercials.”

   God talks, and God’s speaking is revealed by the Holy Spirit. But if your worldview, your filter, says that God is not speaking, you may not hear God. If you regularly listen for the advertisements and commercials of the devil, you may indeed hear them.

   Ironically, I think that many adults in our times are comforted by this devilish terror. They think that if they invent it, it must not be real. If everyone around them seems to be enjoying torture and death, superstition and decay, evil forces and crushing despair, it must be OK to not mock them but to celebrate them as harmless entertainment.

   This is a form of delusion in which our current culture finds itself at both ends of a spectrum of errors. Author C.S. Lewis said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

   Christians, those who believe and are baptized, have nothing to fear and we also have something to celebrate: our salvation. Without anything to celebrate in terms of our salvation, we have everything to fear.

   Paul writes, in Ephesians 6, beginning at the 10th verse,

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

   Notice that every piece of armor is a defensive piece, except the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. That sword can be seen as something both offensive and defensive.

   Notice also that salvation and the Christian life is not something we achieve. We receive it as a gift. We put on the armor of God.

   The saints for whom Paul is encouraging us to pray is us. “Saints” in those days was used to describe church members. We are both saints and sinners.

   Martin Luther, the 16th century church reformer, began the Reformation by nailing 95 theses, or statements for academic debate, regarding the corruption of the Church of his day, on the castle church door in Wittenberg,    Germany, on October 31, 1517.

   Was there anything significant about October 31st that Luther chose that day to nail the 95 Theses to the church door? This was not an act of vandalism. The church door was a public bulletin board, and he knew that a lot of people would see them there on October 31st.

    All Hallows Eve was to be celebrated that evening. It was the night before All Saints Day, a day for the celebration of all the Saints, a big deal in the Roman Catholic Church. Luther chose this day because he knew that the church would be packed.

   Reformation Sunday on October 31st is a celebration of our freedom. We are set free from sin, death and the power of the devil by God. Jesus said, in the text from John 8 that I read at the beginning,

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

   Jesus says, “the truth will make you free”. But that’s the end of what begins as a conditional statement: “If you continue in my word.”

   What will happen then? “you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

   What is the truth? Jesus.

   We see, in John 14:6,

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

   We all receive forgiveness of sin, deliverance from death and the devil, and everlasting salvation to all who believe what God has promised in our baptism.

   Our baptism service actually contains an exorcism. Our sponsors are asked, or we are asked if we are old enough, to renounce all the forces that defy God.

   We do. Those forces now have no power over us. None.

   This is why we celebrate and praise God on All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints Day, this week and every week, forever.

   The victory of God over everything that hold us back from being free from sin, death, and the powers of all the forces that defy God, to know the abundant life that truly is life, in a living relationship with the one true living God, has been won.  It was won for us by Jesus Christ, God in flesh, on the cross.

   We have nothing to fear. We have several real things to celebrate this week: faith, baptism, and salvation, all gifts from God.

   The Truth that is Jesus has set us free.