"A Theology of Halloween"
This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on October 31st, 2021 ,the Twenty- second Sunday after Pentecost , by Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
“A Theology of Halloween”
October 31, 2021
Isaiah 25:6-9 and Revelation 21:1-6a
All Saints Sunday
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
“A Theology of Halloween”
Today we’re going to do something a little different. We’re going to talk about Halloween and All Saints Day. These two holidays are only one day apart. One is October 31 and one is November 1, and they similar origins, but in our current world, one has become very secular and one remains mostly only known by church people, if that.
It’s only once every so often that Halloween actually falls on a Sunday. The name itself, “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows’ Eve” meaning the night before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day. What is All Saints Day? All Saints Day is the day when Christians recognize and celebrate the people who have gone before them who have shown the love of God. This might mean famous people like Saint Francis of Assisi or it might mean ordinary people like grandmothers and camp counselors. All Saints Day is a recognition that all the lives that have gone before us have made us who we are today. It’s also a day when we recognize that death doesn’t end the lives of those saints, but instead God has welcomed them into an eternal life where there is no pain or suffering, as our scripture lessons have talked about today.
All Saints Day is about celebrating lives lived in the face of death. Halloween? Seems like the opposite, right? I’m going to pull some now from an article I read this week by The SALT project about the theology of Halloween and how it’s more sacred than we might think. You see, “All Hallow’s Eve,“ what we now know to be Halloween came about as the carnival-like inversion of All Saints Day celebrating the shadow side of life — ghosts and ghouls and such — just before the great festival celebrating the saints. (Kind of like Mardi Gras comes right before Ash Wednesday.) All Hallow’s Eve has deep roots may well include folk traditions of honoring the dead, appeasing evil spirits, and marking the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the darkest days of the year.
But whatever its origins, what Halloween has become today is worth thinking about. It’s become one of the most popular holidays in North America (second only to Christmas!), and at its best, it’s a magical, playful night of community-building and neighborhood-making. From this point of view, we might even call it a sacramental glimpse, if only for one night, of how the world is supposed to be: homes decked out in fun, doors opened to visitors of all ages, a spirit of wit and excitement in the air, and simple, sweet gifts given to children — all children, not just “our” children! — dressed up as heroes and villains alike. Even (especially?) in an age of pandemic, when the night’s celebration requires wisdom and special care, the joys of All Hallows’ Eve are as precious and important as ever.
It’s easy to grumble about “all that sugar,” “marauding teenagers,” “the costumes these days.” “a waste of time,” and so forth. But think of it like this: when else do we intentionally spend this kind of time together as a community? When else do we do something as a neighborhood that’s this intergenerational? This open to all? This playful, goofy, and plain old fun? When else do our yards and doors open to so many? And when else are so many gifts given out — often by strangers, to strangers — just for the sake of delight?
And there’s an even deeper side to all of this, too: in many neighborhoods, lines of social division — segregated lines of race and class, for example — are often crossed on Halloween night. In such moments, Halloween can become an all-too-brief time of sharing experiences and resources, catching sight of a true “commonwealth” too often obscured from view on the other 364 nights of the year. And what’s more, there’s now some intriguing social science showing a strong correlation between a community’s health and the extent to which it celebrates Halloween.
At its best, then, Halloween amounts to a vivid portrait of what “neighborhood” actually looks like. That alone is worth celebrating. And after all, what better way to honor the dead, to celebrate the saints, and enter together the darkest time of the year than to embody — with equal parts creativity and joy — the “loving our neighbors as ourselves” to which Jesus calls us every day?
Halloween and All Saints Day together represent a thin moment. A time when the boundary between this world and the next seems strangely thin. And not just because of the ghost and goblins our children conjure, but also because of the richness of joy and delight embodied in this moment that seems to bring a glimpse of heaven right to earth. Let us remember that God swallows up death and destroys its power over us.
I am proud of this church for embracing Halloween as an opportunity to love its neighbors; for embracing this moment as a thin moment between heaven and earth; for choosing to be part of the joy of this holiday; for recognizing that it was our ancestors in the faith who first built this church at this corner of the neighborhood to be a place of hospitality and gathering; for loving Jesus so much that we take love out into the streets.
Those mini peppermint patties never tasted so good, right?
Let us pray.
A Prayer Meditation for All Saints Day (Written by Safiyah Fosua)
We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you, whether in arbors or cathedrals, wooden churches or cement meeting houses.
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise: manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil, strong hands and hands gnarled with age, holy hands.
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints, whether hard-hatted or aproned, blue-collared or three-piece-suited. They left their mark for you, for us, for our children to come.
Thank you for the sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.