I suspect that most people don’t draw comparisons between All Saints Day and New Year’s Day, if they spend any time thinking about All Saints Day at all. New Year’s, at least, is a recognized holiday, and the semi-formal end of the winter holiday season as a whole. It’s hard to overlook a day that you get to stay home from work, after all.
But it occurred to me this week that both days share a sort of odd distinction. They’re both defined in our culture by what happens the night before. Their eves are what we truly celebrate, not the days themselves. New Year’s Eve is when people make plans and stay up too late (unless, like me, as often as not you just watch TV until you’re tired and then go to bed). And of course, it’s Halloween that gets all the decorations and costumes and junk food.
Halloween, in case you didn’t already happen to know, gets its name from a corrupted form of All Hallows Eve, with “hallow” being another term for a holy or sainted person. It’s not entirely clear how our present observance of the day came to be. Various European pagan cultures had commemorations of death, spirits and/or the harvest in the autumn, and it was the church’s habit to take such festivals and plunk their own celebrations on top of them. (See also: Christmas and Easter.) Some cultures came to believe that souls were liberated from Purgatory for a couple of days to visit their old homes around this date.
For whatever reason and from whatever origins, we now have our present traditions and practices. It’s now a free-form extravaganza that encompasses all things spooky and gives children and grown-ups alike an excuse to wear costumes. There’s no real attention paid to the actual All Hallows Day in our popular culture at all.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that I’m going to bat for the actual day itself, our day within the church to celebrate all holy people, followed immediately by All Souls Day. It is a chance to reflect on the sacred nature of every single child of God, which is something I think we should spend as much time doing at every opportunity that we can.
I believe that under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, I don’t think the present circumstances are anything close to the best.
I regret how often I find myself returning to a similar theme. But some things need saying over and over and over. And so here I am again, thinking about things I’ve discussed a time or two before.
I think of that great multitude John describes assembled before the throne of God. The vast array of them all. The far-flung corners of our world from which they all came. The glorious chorus of their voices lifted together in praise, every one different but every message the same. The color and sound that represented all the saints of God, their unity in which robes wrapped around a magnificent diversity.
It is clear from recent events that we are a far distance from heaven.
Chances are good that, not so long ago, you saw people assembled in Charlottesville to protest against a racially diverse nation. Perhaps you saw among them people wearing garments or carrying flags that signaled allegiance with the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi movement. Perhaps you, like me, were dismayed by how these events were discussed by some of our leaders.
Perhaps you wish ours was a nation more like the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps you wish we could see the saint in our fellow human easier than we do.
The instructions for sainthood are entirely separate from where a person is born, or what language they speak, or what they look like. They’re not necessarily easy, but they are available to everyone.
Who is blessed? The meek. Those who mourn. The poor in spirit. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
Jesus seems totally unconcerned about where a person is from. He breathes not a whisper about how dark their skin happens to be, or what their accent sounds like, or what number they press to hear instructions in their preferred language. Something tells me Jesus didn’t care about that kind of thing at all, and wouldn’t if he lived here today. In fact, something tells me Jesus would be pretty upset with people who did spend their time and energy caring about such things.
Frankly, I think Jesus would be very upset with those people.
We aren’t really asked for much by Jesus, when you stop to think about it. When you break it down, what he wants from us is pretty simple.
Jesus wants us to care about the right things. Jesus wants us to care about those who suffer, those who need our help, and not a whole lot more. Jesus wants us to remember that God created us all, and does not have time for human divisions. In fact, Jesus wants us to remember that human divisions are against everything that God wants for us.
I’m guessing we would all immediately recognize that it would be ridiculous for God to make eternal judgments of us based on our Halloween costumes. Star Wars theme? In! Doc McStuffins? Out! Preposterous, right?
But from the perspective of eternity, our human complexions and languages are hardly less ridiculous.
Say “hola” instead of “hello”? Pray one way instead of another? Have more or less pigment in your skin?
The person handing out Kit-Kats to the unicorns and Kylo Rens and football players and clowns doesn’t decide who gets a treat based on the outside appearance. The “trick-or-treat” is all that counts. It’s a small thing, but a joy we can look forward to year after year.
No more so does God care about what we look like. Or how we sound. Or where we were born. These are no more meaningful than what we wore on one night at the end of October. God cares about what was inside.
Did you care about what was righteous? Did you work for peace, and make space in your heart for the poor? Were you meek and merciful?
That’s all that matters. Happy All Saints Day.