One of my favorite events in the life of our church here in Odessa took place last night. For one night each year we roll out the red, or should I say orange, carpet in a big way. Our annual Fall Festival is awesome! We have about 50 or so volunteers rally to host over 500 people each year. There’s food trucks, inflatables, face-painting, carnival games, pop-corn, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids”, coming to our church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do with this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls.
I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history, after all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and often become something else entirely. Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs…and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last night or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating this coming week. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy? It’s almost kind of magical. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?
I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that comes with childhood? I think all to often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.
About a week or so ago my wife and I got to take part in that ever so elusive activity for a pastoral family with small children…date night. And my wife had been plotting our excursion for a while and so we went with excitement to the opening night of Pitch Perfect 2. And although I enjoyed this movie for a lot of it’s comedic elements, I found myself wrapped up in one of the final scenes for a completely different reason. As with many movies of this nature the finale comes upon us with the protagonists defying the odds and somehow coming out on top. But the way in which the writers lent a hand to the Barden Bellas (the competing A Capella choir) was perfect. As their final song reached a crescendo the stage illuminated to reveal that they were all of a sudden surrounded and accompanied by alumni of all ages of that same A Capella group. And being the masculine specimen I am, I realized that the movie theater was all of a sudden very dusty or my allergies were bad or something like that.
Allow me to explain my leaking eyes conundrum a bit. There is this statement in the Apostles Creed that we as believers affirm that I always take a huge amount of comfort in. We believe in…”the communion of saints”. What I love about this phrase is that the intention is not limited to the saints of here and now, but is also inclusive of those who have gone on before us. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – Hebrews 12:1I love the image behind this. in the midst of us running our race we have this heavenly cheering section in the stands so excited to rally behind us reminding us that every step is worth the journey.
There is one more story that helps me reflect on this a bit more. About eight years ago I found myself in a church service as a regular layperson and worshiping along with others in the seats. After the first few songs and during our greeting time, the woman in front of me turned around, shook my hand and then said, “You’re Garland Patterson’s grandson aren’t you? I can tell by the way you sing.” Now mind you, I had never met this woman before. In fact, I have never met my grandfather either, as he passed away when my mom was seven. Yet something in the way I was singing reminded this woman of my grandfather, who she was friends with many years before. And so I thought about my grandfather. And how he is part of the cloud of witnesses. And how they are singing along with us, backing us up, watching over us in our difficult circumstances and so excited to see us finish the journey. So that when life gets tough and our way seems difficult we take comfort in that knowledge. May we go on knowing that those who have gone before us are in our corner and so excited to see us join them.