Halloween 2021

The veil between this world and the next isn’t just thin on Halloween — it’s been completely removed by God in Christ forever.

Rom. 14:7-9 For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this reason Christ died and returned to life, that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Today is Halloween. Halloween is actually a very Christian holiday. That may come as a surprise. Like many things pertaining to Christianity, there are modern myths about the origins of Halloween. You may have heard that Halloween is just a pagan harvest festival, Samhain, dressed up in Hallmark clothing and Hershey’s candy.  

But actually, the Celtic Samhaim festival was just a harvest festival. All of the practices that accompany modern Celtic pagan traditions – like mumming and guising, which is basically trick or treating, etc – these came long after the advent of Halloween, and from the French, actually. So when you hear someone say that our Halloween traditions were lifted by Christians off of pagans, you should inform them, in fact, the opposite is the case! 

Halloween is an ancient holiday that goes back to the 8th century. It’s called Halloween because it was a prayerful vigil held on the evening before All Hallow’s day – Hallow e’en.  

200 years after Pope Gregory III’s first Halloween, St. Odilo added All Souls’ Day to be held the day after All Hallow’s Day, so that in addition to celebrating the holy saints who have gone to glory on All Hallow’s Day, Christians can also pray for all the souls of those departed on All Souls’ Day. 

So Halloween is as Christian as can be. One last thing you might hear from the Samhaim crowd, though, is that Halloween is held during Samhaim because the ancient Celts believed that during this time of year, the veil between the world of the living and dead is at its thinnest. 

Well, I’ve already noted that much of Halloween as we know it mostly came from Continental Europe, like France – not the Celtic Isles. So pagan Celtic traditions haven’t really formed Halloween traditions as much as those of the French Catholics. But another reason this claim about the origins of Halloween isn’t quite correct is because, Christians already believed in a thin veil between the living and the dead – in fact, Christians have always believed that death itself has been destroyed by our risen Lord Jesus Christ, who is “Lord of both the dead and the living”. The veil between the visible world and the hidden one was torn asunder by the Cross, and the two are brought together in Christ. 

As Christians, we live fully in the visible and the hidden worlds, not just on Halloween, but 24/7, 365 days a year, and 366 days on a leap year! 

The spirit of Halloween, then, is to celebrate and reflect on the exemplary lives of those who have gone before us to glory, our great ancestors and friends departed in the faith; and also to remember and pray for our ancestors by blood, and our friends departed from this world. 

In the story of Chanukkah, after a great battle, Judah Maccabee made a sin offering at the Temple on behalf of those who had fallen by the sword for the testimony of God. The scripture says that “In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.” 

How much more so should we pray in the name of Christ that by his blood, which is a much better sacrifice than those offered in the Temple, All Souls may have a good resurrection. Whereas Judah Maccabee made intercession with a sacrifice of silver, we make intercession by the living sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood.  

He and his people came to what Hebrews described: “a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom, and storm…The sight was so terrifying that even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” 

But we “have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… to myriads of angels in joyful assembly, to the congregation of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven…to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” — All Saints! — and “to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” for all souls. 

Halloween is a time when we reflect on these great mysteries, what our tradition calls “the communion of the saints.” We remember that we don’t pray alone, but as John the Revelator saw in his vision, our prayers are collected like incense into golden bowls by those elders and angels who surround the throne of God, and they go up before his presence. Heaven prays with us when we pray in the name of Jesus: all angels, all saints, all souls together in harmony. 

Many people who come to this chapel feel a special holy energy, and certainly it is the prayers of all who have come before. It is not just that this house is supercharged with the ancestors’ prayers that were made while inside the building – do not doubt for a moment that this house is also supercharged with the prayers of the ancestors who are praying for us now, in heaven. My Granny always said that she feels great power praying in the name of Jesus on earth, but she says that one day, when she is in heaven, her prayers will be much more powerful. This is true. We are feeling those powerful prayers from the ancestors in heaven. It is a palpable feeling that many spiritual people feel when they come here. 

In addition to considering those who have gone to the Lord before us, Halloween also reminds us that we will also one day depart for the Lord – we don’t know when, but we know we will. Jesus often tried to remind us of this. He told the parable of the rich landowner, whose crops produced such abundance that he said: “I’m set for life!” He tore down his old barns and built bigger ones to fit all the surplus. “Now I’ll take it easy. Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ 

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be required of you. Then who will own what you have accumulated?’ This is how it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.” 

He also tells the terrifying story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where the rich man found himself in torment in fiery Hades, begging Lazarus, as Lazarus once begged him, for relief — just a drink of water. But Abraham, on the other side of the chasm, said that this was the rich man’s due. The rich man cries, “At least send Lazarus to warn my brothers about this!”  

But Abraham says, “They already have Moses and the Prophets. If they don’t believe their warning, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” 

We want to heed the warnings of the one who rose from the dead to be our Lord and Savior, and live our lives for Him. He bore the scourges of suffering, torture, a brutal death, and even hell itself to free its captives and reconcile together all things in heaven and earth. The good news is we have eternal life in him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

On Halloween, we reflect on the true meaning of these words: for we will perish from this earthly life; but if we believe in Jesus, we will not perish from His heavenly eternal life. St. Paul tells us that our earthly life is like a seed, and when we die, that seed bursts open into a new creature, our eternal life. We are like caterpillars, and death is the cocoon we must go into to become butterflies. But we will not become butterflies without our Lord. 

So this Halloween, reflect on those saints who have gone before; pray as you are led for souls departed; and pray also for your own soul, that you might one day be a saint in glory after your time on this earth is finished. Amen. 

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