My grandson celebrating Halloween
American children love celebrating Halloween. They dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. It’s fun! It’s also a way to build our courage by poking fun at scary things rather than being afraid or even controlled by them. That’s good!
Furthermore, we have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously. Halloween reminds us to lighten up a bit. It’s followed by All Saints Day—a time for remembering the dead in the ancient Christian calendar but Halloween gets practically all the attention in our country.
In contrast, All Saints Day is a major holiday in the Philippines, where our family once lived. People bring lots of candles, food, and music to their family burial places in the cemeteries. Prayers and blessings are said. People camp out in the cemetery through the night and spend the whole next day visiting with relatives and neighbors. They bring photos of loved ones who have died and tell lots of stories in memory of them. There’s a sense that their dead ancestors’ spirits are there celebrating with them. It’s a big multi-generational party.
Dressing up in costumes and going trick-or-treating pales in comparison. Wouldn’t it be great if we’d have a worship service followed by a potluck in our church cemeteries once a year? We could remember our loved ones who passed away. We could tell stories about the struggles, victories, and defeats of past generations in our families and our churches. We are who we are because of who they were—saints and sinners—ordinary people with strengths and weaknesses.
Many of us would probably find that too macabre because we live in a death denying culture. We’re a young and restless country with a short attention span. Car manufacturer Henry Ford once said that history’s bunk. History involves speaking with the dead and we have little time for that. Listen carefully—Christianity is inherently traditional and listening to the dead is a central discipline of our faith. We will want to give them a privileged place in the conversation. Understanding the past is necessary for understanding our present world. It’s not only about dead ancestors. It’s about us and our future.
That’s what Jesus meant when he said that “every scribe trained for the kingdom of Heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his storehouse that which is new and that which is old” (Matthew 13:52). We enter our rich storehouse of history, which is thousands of years old, and bring out both new and old things that can inform us about being faithful followers of Jesus in our day.