The Surprise of the Resurrection, All Saints’ Day (B) – November 4, 2018


[RCL]: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Winston Churchill, arguably one of the greatest political and military leaders of the 20th century, planned every detail of his funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He worked clandestinely with cathedral staff, under the code name “Operation-Hope-Not.” (That code name reveals a lot about humanity’s attitude toward death, doesn’t it?) One aspect of his funeral seems absolutely inspired: a bugler played The Last Post, which is like the equivalent of Taps in the United States, from the west end of the cathedral. When the somber notes of that solo bugle echoed through the cathedral, I can imagine the stiff upper lips of many Brits quivered, as they were no longer able to hold back tears.

Then a full minute of silence passed.

And then, surely a surprise to all those mourners who crowded into St. Paul’s that day, another bugler, this one positioned in the east, rose to play Reveille, the happy morning bugle call that gives soldiers and scouts the “get up and go” they need to kick-start their day. Perhaps after the tears, a few suppressed chuckles slipped out. Always a commanding presence – even from the dead – Churchill relayed two important messages.

First, he offered a testimony to the shock, joy, and surprise of the Resurrection. At the last day, we’ll all rise to the sound of the Lord playing a heavenly version of Reveille and waking us up to the new life, new earth, new Jerusalem. It wasn’t random that the Reveille came from the east, where the sun rises, the direction the altar faces in many churches, the direction from which we expect Christ to return again.

Secondly, Churchill bid them to press on, to attend to the day at hand, and the life ahead, here and now.

But let’s go back in our imagination to that minute of silence because that is where we can locate this great feast day we’ve gathered to celebrate: All Saints’ Day.

That minute of silence is where we find ourselves wondering:

  • Is this really it?
  • What comes next?
  • Do we have enough tears to cry?
  • Is there enough patience to persevere?

Somewhere in the uncomfortable silence, having heard Taps and waiting for Reveille.

Somewhere in the waiting, for God to descend among us and wipe every tear from our eyes.

Somewhere in the hoping, that Jesus’ words are trustworthy and true.

Somewhere in the trusting, that God is preparing, for all peoples – my favorite saints and yours, those dearly departed in this community and abroad, folk we miss dearly and folk we never knew – that God is preparing a feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

Somewhere in the discomfiting silence, where we wait for God to swallow up death forever, even as it abides with us here and now.

And in this quiet and disquieting moment, when we wait, hope, trust on our best days and fight despair on our worst – that is the moment where we meet the Lord.

Today’s liturgy, feast, and Gospel reading all encourage us to feel the grief and sorrow, maybe even impatience at having to wait that long minute before we hear Reveille, or anger at how death takes away, at least in physical form, the people we love. We are given the courage we need to wait for Reveille – together, nourished around this table, hearing God’s story in our stories, and pleading, like Mary did, for Jesus to come and take death away.

Today’s Gospel story is remarkable. In John’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the event that provokes the necessity of Jesus’ death in the eyes of his day’s elite. After Lazarus was raised, the religious and political leaders were focused on eliminating him. There was something so threatening in Jesus’ disruption of the world on the world’s terms. Jesus is distraught: weeping, disturbed, maybe even angry, and certainly grief-stricken. And yet Jesus is fully in-charge, not operating on our preferred timetable, but on his own with a larger purpose in mind, that of engendering trust or belief in the crowd that had gathered.

Mary articulates what many of us feel when someone close to us dies: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus doesn’t directly respond to this. Instead, he begins to take charge, first finding out where the body is and then issuing a series of short commands:

Take away the stone.
Lazarus, come out!
Unbind him, and let him go.

What would it be like to prayerfully wonder how the Holy Spirit might be telling us in the words of Jesus:

“Take away the stone.” What stones in your life need to be removed so that Jesus can get to you? Ask for the grace to take away the stone.

“Lazarus, come out.” Jesus knows us each by name and calls us o’er the tumult. Even death can’t deafen our ear to Jesus’ call. “Lazarus, come out.”

“Unbind him, and let him go.” Sometimes each one of us needs help becoming free, loosing ourselves from the chains that bind us to death-dealing ways. To whom in your life can Jesus say, “Go, unbind your friend. The abundant life is available for him, for her, for you, here and now, even in your grief, even in your tears, even in your longing to be reunited with your beloved who is now part of that great cloud of witnesses.”

Each of these commands offers good material for our own prayer life. When we pray, just like when we receive the sacraments, we are closer to the saints because we are placing our hearts and minds in the nearer presence of God.

Jesus is very explicit about why he raised his friend Lazarus. He did this so that the crowd back then, and you and me today, might believe, might trust in the God who sent Jesus to raise Lazarus, in the Father who raised the Son on the third day, in the Lord who will swallow up death forever. This story inspires us in our waiting, in our hoping, in our trusting, in that long silence between Taps and Reveille.

And, maybe, just maybe, in heaven, the equivalent of Reveille goes like this:

Holy, Holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts…

And maybe, just maybe, every Sunday, we come back here to hear that tune, to wake up to it, maybe even to join in – with the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven – including those saints we remember and grieve and are grateful for and celebrate this day.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts: Heaven and earth are full of thy Glory. Hosanna in the highest.

The Rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer serves in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina as Rector of Grace Church in Waynesville.

Download the sermon for All Saints’ Day (B).

They are resurrected in our hearts, All Saints’ Day, Year B – 2015

[RCL] Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 48; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

All Saints’ Day is one of the most underrated church holidays of the year. It is overshadowed by its more glamorous cousins, All Hallow’s Eve and Thanksgiving, similar to how Holy Saturday gets lost in Holy Week. But All Saints’ Day can bring us a unique blessing just as Holy Saturday does because they are days that are about how some of the darker parts of human experience can be washed in holiness when they are brought before God.

All Saints’ Day is so important because it is the one church holiday set aside during the year to tend to our grief. We experience grief on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, but that grief is for the suffering and death of Christ and the grand theological ideas that accompany them. All Saints Day is for us, for remembering the people we loved, who were important to us, who made an impact on our lives and then died and left us behind.

Grief is one of life’s most powerful human experiences, and grief is often very lonely. Many of us have awakened on the morning after the death of a loved one and simply marveled at how the sun can rise another day and the Earth can continue to turn after our world has been abruptly destroyed. We are grateful for all the concern friends and colleagues show us, but find it so strange to realize that while they truly felt sorry for us during the time they were in conversation with us or the moment they kindly took to send us a card or email, this event that turned our world upside down really meant very little to them.

We’re not angry at them. Of course no one would love or care for or agonize over our departed loved one the way our own family would, but it is just so surreal to realize that after someone says something kind to us about it, that person will go right back to thinking about what to put on the dinner table or whether to go to the movies that weekend. It is a realization that all of us have at some time or another that our own personal battles and tragedies and defeats really matter very little in the big picture of the world.

They matter very little 364 days a year in 99.9% of the places on this Earth. But our grief does matter on this day, in this place. On All Saints’ Day, in God’s Holy Church, the losses that we have borne over the years come front and center and are named for all to hear, on holy ground. On All Saints Day, our grief is no longer lonely and isolating, but we gather in this sanctuary and let our grief bind us together in a new and powerful way.

All Saints’ Day is an important ministry to us in our losses because it helps us reenter that place of mourning in a rhythm, year after year after year each November. As the green and life of the summer die and go to their winter rest around us, so we bring up the pain of loss on purpose in this rhythm, year after year. And each year that we revisit the loss, the pain softens and loses a little sharpness, begins to go to its own winter rest. Every time we name our loved ones among the saints, we honor not only their lives but our own long battle with memories both painful and joyful.

And it is so important to honor their memories. Most of our departed loved ones had a funeral to commemorate them. But the funeral happens right after the loss and often our emotions are completely chaotic, not to mention the practical circumstances we are trying to manage. If you have lost someone close to you, either due to sudden accident or long illness, you probably remember the days in the immediate aftermath as a haze of confusion. There are hundreds of details to attend to—notifying friends, organizing a service, pulling together money for a casket and burial plot, thinking about wills and estates, the volatility of family brought together in a pressure cooker of emotion. Frankly it is often not a time to treasure the memory of the departed. Many grieving families float through the funeral in a sort of disconnected shock.

This is where All Saints’ Day comes to our aid once again. There is no chaos, there are no arrangements to be made, no being singled out to sit at the front of the church in a black suit or dress, no finding directions to the cemetery. We are all in this together, and the ones we are remembering are long settled in their resting places. It’s the chance to be private about our grief, taking out our memories in the quiet of our hearts and turning them over one by one, taking our time to remember and reflect. But we all enter that sheltered and quiet heartspace of our own at the same time, in the same place. As you bring up the faces of your dearest departed before your mind’s eye, cherishing the chance to do so peacefully and uninterrupted, your neighbor is doing the same. We enter the valley of the shadow of death together, and walk through it in solidarity with one another.

There is someone else who is in solidarity with us in our grief, and that is Jesus. In our gospel today, we see him in the exact situation we have faced in our own lives—the inevitable but painful death of a loved one. Lazarus had been sick, they all knew there was a possibility he might die. But even Jesus can’t quite believe it at first. He doesn’t want to believe it, and asks if he’s been buried, hoping maybe the message has gotten twisted along the way and Lazarus is still just sick. “He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.”

Jesus sees so much pain in his lifetime, and he bears it so bravely. He sees the suffering of his people crushed under the imperial rule of Rome, and he doesn’t cry. He sees five thousand hungry and poor on a hillside needing him to feed them, and he doesn’t cry. He sees people tormented by demons, bleeding or paralyzed or diseased for years, and he doesn’t cry. He continues his ministry and cares for them.

But here, at last, he breaks, and for the simple, everyday loss of a simple, everyday beloved friend. Nothing grand or dramatic. One of his best friends gets sick and dies, and Jesus weeps. And so perhaps on this day of letting our heartaches step out into the open on holy ground, we can be in solidarity with Jesus as much as he is with us. He always bears the burden for us. Maybe today we can say, “Jesus, we understand how you feel. We’re sorry you lost your friend. We love you. Come be with us for a while and we’ll all be in this together.”

Jesus brought his friend back, just as on the final day we will all be brought back to life by him to live with him and in him. And how did Jesus raise Lazarus up to new life? How did he bring him back from the dead? By calling his name. “Lazarus, come out!” Today, we’re doing the same thing. We’re calling out the names of the ones we loved who have passed on, and they answer. They are resurrected in our hearts, brought to life in this time and place. Whether on one side of the border between life and death or the other, we all want to be with our loved ones. As the communion of saints joins spirits across the divide today, we may realize that we are being called by name today as well, named and loved by the ones who have gone before us.

Download the Sermon for All Saints, Year B.

Written by The Rev. Whitney Rice

The Rev. Whitney Rice is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Indianapolis and currently the Priest-in-Charge of the Shared Ministry of St. Luke’s Shelbyville and St. Thomas Franklin. A native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, she comes to ordained ministry by way of the University of Kansas and Yale Divinity School. See more of her work at www.roofcrashersandhemgrabbers.com.

Lazarus, come out!, All Saints’ Day (B) – November 1, 2012

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

“Lazarus, come out!”

You can hear the sternness of Christ’s voice as he commands his servant with a loud voice, powerful enough to bridge the gap between life and death. Lazarus was not just some person living in the area whom Jesus had never met. Jesus knew Lazarus personally, and he loved him deeply. Lazarus was a close personal friend of Christ’s. When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters, Martha and Mary, immediately sent a messenger to Jesus to inform him of the impending death with the expectation that Jesus would save their family from this pain immediately. After all, this is the same Jesus who has healed complete strangers from every multitude of pain, deformity, and disease. Surely he would move quickly to save somebody that he actually knows and loves. But Jesus does not react in the manner in which anybody close to him would expect. Instead of dropping everything and making haste to get to his friend’s side, Jesus continues what he was doing and waits. Both Mary and Martha believed that Lazarus was on his deathbed, and Jesus knew that Lazarus was dying, but he waited.

Four days after Lazarus died, Jesus finally showed up in Bethany. You can only imagine the scene on that day. Martha and Mary are deep in their grief and they are sobbing at the loss of their beloved brother. When Jesus enters the house, one would expect that his reception was not a pleasant one. The sisters were upset, and they lashed out at Jesus by saying that if he had actually cared enough and come right away, then their loved one would still be here. They were angry; they were grieving; and they were distraught.

Instead of caving into their distressed words, Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb. Upon arriving, Jesus orders that the tomb be opened, and at this, he was rebuked by Martha. Lazarus had been dead for four days. Unlike today’s mortuary practices, there was no embalming of the body, nor was there any air conditioning in order to preserve the body for any length of time. In those days, when somebody died, they were placed within the tomb as soon as possible, and the door was sealed. The stench of the tomb after four days would have been too great. But Jesus again ordered the tomb opened, and the family finally obeyed him and had the stone rolled away. The stench that came out of the tomb was horrendous and did cause a number of people distress.

“Lazarus, come out!”

Ignoring the comments from the gathered people, the stench from the open tomb, and the sly comments, Jesus said a short prayer to our Father, and then commanded Lazarus with a loud voice; projecting not just his confidence in the miracle that was being performed, but with great authority. In just three words, Jesus was able to dispel the notions of death, proved the power of God, and exposed himself, yet again, as the only Son of God.

The scriptures do not tell us what Lazarus was doing during those four days, nor is there an interview with Lazarus to find out. Although it would satisfy our human curiosity to find out, the most important thing is that, even after death had overtaken him, Lazarus still obeyed God’s command. Jesus proved that he had authority both in this life, and in the next. That is an important thing for us today.

Martha and Mary were distraught over the death of their beloved, and yet they put their human feelings and emotions away and obeyed the commands of Christ. Lazarus, although he was dead, also obeyed the commands of Christ. What would happen in our lives if we put aside our human emotions and simply obeyed the commands of Christ?

Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say to Peter “get behind me, Satan, for you are setting your mind on human things and not divine things.” Peter knew the prophecies of the Messiah, and had, what he felt, was a good understanding of what was going to happen when the Messiah arrived. When Jesus spoke of what He was going to face in Jerusalem, these facts did not mesh well with the human perceptions, and Peter immediately rebuked his Lord. Jesus knew God’s plan in full detail and he knew what had to happen in order to fulfill this plan.

And like Peter, Martha and Mary had their beliefs about the Son of God, and when Jesus did not respond in the way they expected, they too had fallen. You see, in Hebrew theology the fourth day of death was important. According to Hebrew beliefs of death, the spirit hovered near the body after someone died for three days. On the fourth day, when the spirit saw the face of the deceased turn color, the spirit would leave, never to return. At that point this existence ended and life was no more. In fact, the priests of the temple in Jerusalem believed death in this world was the end. They did not believe in an afterlife at all. When Jesus finally had arrived, Martha and Mary believed that their brother was gone, never to return. But they also believed in Jesus enough to obey his commands.

And that is what separates the saints from the sinners. Today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we are honoring all those who have come before, all those with us now, and all of those yet to come who have obeyed the commands of God at all costs. Today we are celebrating not only the canonically recognized saints, but also those who have not been canonically recognized. As Christians, we hold these saints in high regard, and we have named our churches in honor of their Godly work. For example, many of us can look to Saint Francis of Assisi as an example of how God’s love extends beyond human beings to all creatures of creation.

As humans, we oftentimes have neglected to realize the true humanness of these saints and instead revere them as living nothing but holy lives. The truth is these men and women were just as human as you and I. All of them were, are, will be ordinary people. They just had extraordinary lives – extraordinary lives because they set their minds on divine things and obeyed the command of God at every impasse.

We all believe in the resurrection of the body, and we all know that one day, like Lazarus, we too will hear Jesus commanding us to “come out.” Like the saints, we too can live an extraordinary life if we only obey every command that Christ gives us. When our worship ends today, if you listen intently enough, you may just be able to hear our Lord standing outside these doors calling each of us out into the world – out into His world – to spread his message, to fulfill God’s plan.

— Christopher Zampaloni is a postulant seeking Holy Orders through the Diocese of Western New York. He currently serves three churches: Church of the Good Shepherd, a Native American mission in Irving, New York; St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Silver Creek, New York; and the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown, New York. He and his wife Carolyn live within a Native American community on Lake Erie.

We are to be unbound, 22 Pentecost / All Saints’ Sunday (B) – 2009

November 1, 2009

(RCL) Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Mary and Martha of Bethany are deep in shock and lost in grief for their brother Lazarus. The sisters had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill. On receiving the message, Jesus had waited two long days. By the time he got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days.

“If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” This quote is from the opening paragraph of the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The author, who writes dark tales for children under the pen name “Lemony Snicket,” explains that this is how the Baudelaire children felt when they became the Baudelaire orphans after both their parents died in a house fire.

Those words of how difficult it is to convey a sense of loss fit with today’s gospel reading. Martha is hurt when she sees Jesus. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then she calls for her sister Mary who repeats that same accusation, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Then John tells us that, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’”

Then in that shortest verse in the Bible, we are told that “Jesus wept.”

Jesus loved Lazarus. He weeps at the grave of his friend. Yes, this makes sense in Jesus’ humanity, but if anyone believed in the resurrection, it should have been Jesus. Yet Jesus wept. This shows us that grief is not unchristian. Christ wept at the grave of his friend. We too weep over the graves of those we love. On this All Saints Day as we remember not just the great saints of the church, but also the saints in our own lives, we remember those we love who have died. That remembrance comes with sorrow.

It is a sorrow that does not go away. Real grief stays with you. In fact, not only can one not expect grief to go away completely, we also shouldn’t want it to. For as the person you loved is not returned to you, how can you stop grieving? The loss remains, and so does the sorrow. But grief can and does change. We pray not for an end to the grief, but for an unbearable sense of loss to be replaced by a sorrow we can bear. And in this, we are helped by the hope of the resurrection.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus knew people would continue to die. He taught that not only do we find death in the midst of life, but we find life in the midst of death. Those who die will live again. This is Christian teaching and it is why even at the grave Christians can and do praise God.

So while grief is a Christian response to death, Mary and Martha’s line of reasoning is flawed. They said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They assume Jesus was absent from the situation. But we know he was well aware of what was happening in Bethany and waited two days before going. After his resurrection and ascension, Jesus is even more fully present by the power of the Holy Spirit with those we love at the time of their death.

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the writer said, “If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.”

That is so true, and scripture tells us that in Jesus, God knows how it feels as Jesus experienced real grief. Jesus experienced not just the death of Lazarus, but also the loss of his father, Joseph. There would have been others whom he loved who died as well. In becoming human, God was and is with us in Jesus in a way that caused him to experience the depths of human pain and loss. God can readily imagine grief as our “with-us” God has known that pain firsthand.

God is not distant and reserved. God is close, caring, and compassionate. Scripture tells us that the time is coming when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and when even death itself will be defeated. Yet, in the here and now, there are many tragedies, personal and even national or international, which cause people to question their faith.

In all these cases one hears people ask, “Where is God?” And the answer is “with us.” God was there when the towers fell on September 11. God was there when the flood waters rose following Hurricane Katrina. God is there in the tragedies large and small that have us wondering why. God is there in the midst of suffering, present with those in pain, as one who learned the depths of human suffering while living among us.

Knowing that Christ knows how it feels to experience the death of a loved one, we can hear more clearly Jesus call to put away the fear of death. Jesus calls “Come Out!” Come out from the grave. Grief is real, but that loss is not the end. Don’t let grief overwhelm you. Grab hold of the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go” to those around Lazarus, and he says the same to us. We are to be unbound, set free from the power of death. For even as we find death in life, we find life in death. We know that Jesus is resurrection and life, and those of us who believe in him, even if we die, we will live.

 

— The Rev. Frank Logue is a church planter in the Diocese of Georgia and the Vicar of King of Peace Church in Kingsland, Georgia.

We remember those who have gone before, and pray that we may follow after, All Saints’ Day (B) – November 1, 2006

(RCL) Wisdom 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44 

In recent years Halloween seems to have needed defending against those who regard it as terrible. Certainly there can be excess at Halloween, but in itself the holiday is worthwhile. It can even teach us something of importance.

Halloween is October 31, and All Saints’ is November 1, though many congregations celebrate All Saints’ on the following Sunday. As is well known, the name Halloween means All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve. It’s also widely known that many popular Halloween customs date back to the pre-Christian Druids of Ireland and Britain.

However, these customs come to us through the filter of many Christian centuries. Christ has conquered the powers of darkness and revealed the old gods to be nothing. The once fearful aspects of this season have become playful. Where once adults shuddered in fear, now even the smallest child can laugh.

It’s Christian confidence that makes Halloween a light-hearted time. Just as many who are not Christian share the joy of Christmas each year because the light of Jesus is abundant, even so many who are not Christian share our confidence at Halloween because grace is abundant. It overflows.

Halloween has been baptized. It has become All Saints’ Eve in more than name alone. Both occasions address the same themes, though they do so in different ways. Both occasions are concerned with the hope of life beyond the grave, choosing the side of the angels, and courage in a scary universe. All Saints’ approaches these themes with triumphant joy. Halloween deals with them through mischievous humor. Blessed are those who pass through the humor of Halloween to the joy of All Saints’.

Children are the chief celebrants of Halloween. Those of us who are adults serve as their acolytes. And what do children do on Halloween? They dress up in outlandish costumes and witness their peers dressed up the same way. They walk through their neighborhoods in the evening, enter houses made to look frightful, they collect candy, and they return home again. The whole business is a delightful joke. Behind the scary masks and costumes are laughing children. Inside the frightful houses, decorated with spider webs and candles, are friendly, generous neighbors.

The child who goes forth with a trick-or-treat bag takes a sane, healthy, and adventuresome risk, and finds that the universe can be a safe place. The trick-or-treater discovers that the world is a comedy where terrible things have been defeated and remain only as a laughingstock. It’s a great therapy for fear. There’s nothing hellish about it, because in hell there is no laughter.

Those of us past childhood would do well to imitate the willingness of children to venture forth into the unknown, take risks, and return home not only safe but triumphant. Children are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell. They are new to this fight, and want to prove themselves heroic.

Benedictine sister Genevieve Glen writes of children:

“They are all too aware of the human need to wrestle in the inward night with the unreasoning, the untamed, the inexplicable, and yes, the evil in us to believe us when we tell them that there are no witches and warlocks, no ghosts and goblins, and no phosphorescent skeletons. … They know, too, that if you’re afraid of something, the best thing to do is to dress yourself and your friends – and even your little brother – as the thing you’re afraid of, so that you can see it in familiar flesh and confront it and deal with it and prove to yourself that it can’t really hurt you. They know that pretending that it isn’t real won’t work if it is. There are monsters under the bed.”

So the Halloween wisdom of children comes down to this: There are monsters under the bed, but we can face our fears, and by grace and struggle be set free from them. This is infinitely preferable to the common adult attitude that denies monsters under the bed, yet insists on remaining fearful. The children have caught the Gospel. Their hearts are filled with faith and fun.

This feast of All Saints’, with triumphant music, splendid prayers, white hangings and vestments, and everything else – this is the sunny side of Halloween. Today is joy while last night was comedy. The saints we honor this day, a vast, innumerable crowd, are but graduates of the school of grace and struggle in which trick-or-treaters have just enrolled. The saints are those wise enough to face their fears and accept the help of God as naturally as a small child walking in the dark accepts a parent’s hand.

The saints are those who accept an adventuresome risk, and one that’s sane and healthy too, even if their contemporaries can’t figure them out. These saints know the great therapy for fear. They take God seriously, at his word, while everything else, everyone else, including themselves, they regard not seriously, but lightly.

Saints are people who aren’t afraid to live with both the gruesome and the glorious. They are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell. They are called forth into the unknown as into a dark night, they venture forth, enter spooky places, and return home not only safe but triumphant.

What makes them the saints they are? The renowned Episcopal preacher Barbara Taylor offers a list of upsetting characteristics, including “immoderate faith, intemperate hope (and) inordinate love.” They put on these characteristics like the outlandish costumes of Halloween, and never take them off.

Their hearts are full of faith and fun. Ignatius Loyola told his seminarians, “Laugh and grow strong!” Philip Neri performed ridiculous dances in the presence of cardinals and wore his clothes inside out. Teresa of Avila taught her Carmelite nuns to dance on holy days and even gave them castanets.

Children at Halloween recognize that beyond the very real struggle, there is a world of delight, free from fear’s control. That world is where the saints dwell, both saints in heaven and saints on earth.

Perhaps you have known some saints. Perhaps you know some now. Perhaps you are one of these saints, dwelling, part of the time at least, in that world of delight.

Today is the feast of All Saints. We remember those who have gone before, and pray that we may follow after.

Trick-or-treaters venturing forth on Halloween night provide us with a map for the journey, one drawn in the bright colors of childhood trust, courage, and humor.

The saints massed in their glorious ranks are a promise of our happy return home, with hearts glad and eyes open to the wonder of God.

As on Halloween night children were everywhere in outlandish attire, so every day of the year saints are everywhere, in heaven and on earth, known to us and unknown, costumed and uncostumed, children of God living by love and delight, all of them with one common home where the feast has no ending.

Using words from the priest and poet John Donne, let us pray to join the saints in that one common home:

“Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity in the habitations of thy glory and dominion world without end. Amen.”

 

— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest, writer, and teacher. He is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications, 2002).