Do to others as you would have them do to you. -Luke 6:31
All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, has become an extremely popular holiday in our country. It is rooted in a Celtic pre-modern earth-based festival called Samhain, which marked the point in the fall halfway between the fall equinox and winter solstice, when all growing stopped and the days got short and the nights long. People would put sweets and food outside their doors to appease the evil spirits to keep them from entering their houses and taking up residence for the duration of the winter. Samhain continued to be celebrated after the church arrived in the British Isles, so the church embraced (or perhaps adopted) the long held ancient festival in the 9th century, by moving All Saints and All Souls day to November 1 and 2. It was hoped that after a night of enthusiastic Samhain festivities, the church could help refocus the people on the example of the Christian saints instead of evil spirits!
Because Halloween has some deep roots outside of the Christian tradition, it feels like a "safe" holiday for people of all faiths, creeds or ethnic backgrounds to claim in our increasingly diverse culture. There are similar festivals in many different cultures, and it's also kind of fun in a creepy sort of way - loved by children and a great excuse for a party among adults. (As well as a great excuse to buy candy...) It may also provide a way for us to process our human fears of death and of the unknown. Whatever has caused its surge in popularity, it has become big business. I found a quote from the National Retail Federation that says that in 2015:
"More than 157 million Americans planned to celebrate Halloween, with 8 in 10 millennials saying they were planning something fun with their friends. Total spending in 2015 was expected to top $6.9 billion, with the average American celebrating planning to spend $74 on decorations, candy, costumes and more."
Less celebrated these days is All Saints' Day, on November 1, but we will be celebrating it in church this coming Sunday. It is a day to remember our lost loved ones, and to honor the faithful example of our ancestors and the rich inheritance they have left to us. In Year C, the gospel reading for All Saints is Luke's version of the Beatitudes, followed by some very familiar words from Jesus:
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
There are many inspirations, and also challenges, waiting to be mined from these few sentences. It is some of the most direct advice we have from Jesus himself about how we are called to behave toward our neighbors. It ends with what surely must be the most well known proverb of the Bible - the golden rule - variants of which can be found in all the world's religions. The golden rule is considered really, really good advice by just about anyone. So basically, here in these few sentences, you find a simple (but not always easy) formula for how to be a saint.
In the Episcopal tradition, saints are not any different than you or me. They are just ordinary people who have taken Jesus' challenging and inspirational teachings seriously enough to try and model their own lives upon them. And they are people through whom others have been able to see the love, compassion and sometimes even the glory of God. I'm sure we all have stories of the saints in our own lives - people who have shown us what the love of God means. These may be people you read about - or they may be people that you knew personally, whether a grandma, teacher or friend. And maybe - maybe even unknowingly - you have served as a saint for another.
It occurs to me as I plan to go out and get a few bags of candy, that if we all spent even a fraction of the time, energy and money we spend on an increasingly commercialized holiday on finding ways to celebrate and live into Jesus' wise teachings, our world might become a lot better place. Let's all get together every week to work on that, shall we? Oh, wait - that's what it means to be church!
You're invited to come gather with others who are seeking to serve Christ in all persons this Sunday at St. James.