Monday, November 8, 2010

All Hallows Eve Sermon

Happy Halloween! How often do you get to see your priest in rainbow hair?

Today is a day of fun, a day of merriment, when the child inside all of us is allowed to dress up and enjoy life, a day when we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Today reminds me of Fat Tuesday, when people celebrate life in mardi gras or carnival, eating the richest of foods, a day of revelry before the fast of Ash Wednesday begins and the time of Lent with its simplicity and introspection reigns until Easter.

But one big difference is that All Saints Day which we anticipate in our celebrations on Halloween is not a solemn fast like Ash Wednesday – it is a principal feast day – a celebration like Easter. In addition to All Saints Day, we have November 2 which is a lesser feast day called All Souls (or the Commemoration of all the faithful departed) . So in fact, we have three feast days, three celebrations that help us look to the past to connect with our present faith and guide us into our hopeful future. As one priest put it,
“All Saints' Day is the centerpiece of an autumn triduum. In the carnival celebrations of All Hallows' Eve our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule, to confront the power of death. The following day, in the commemoration of All Saints, we gave witness to the victory of incarnate goodness embodied in the remarkable deeds and doers triumphing over the misanthropy of darkness and devils. And in the commemoration of All Souls we proclaim the hope of common mortality expressed in our aspirations and expectation of a shared eternity.” – (The Rev. Sam Portaro from “Brightest and Best”)
In other words… Halloween is a day of carnival celebrations when we use fun, humor even ridicule to live into our baptism and defy the power of death over our lives. As one Orthodox priest said,
“Halloween is the time of year when we see that Christ has so triumphed over Evil, that even little children can mock the Devil with impunity." – Fr. Victor
Halloween can be a moment when we give thanks and enjoy the gifts that God has given to us, even in the midst of the growing darkness around us and our sense of how close death really is. Which then leads into our All Saints Celebrations remembering those saints, as the great hymn puts it…
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
It is the saints who indeed lived their lives by faith, not worried about the power of death because Christ has triumphed, they lived lives as God had called them to be. We remember St. Francis, St. Peter our patron, St. Mary Magdalene, and the list goes on and on. I suspect we each might have our own saint that we treasure for their witness. For me, to coin a phrase from one of my favorite theologians, those saints “lived humanly in the midst of the powers of death.”

And the saints challenge me to do the same. To live by faith. To live as humanly as I can in the midst of darkness and death, knowing the light of Christ still shines. All Saints leads into All Souls, the day to remember the dead of my family, my friends, my parish, who now rest with the saints in heaven with God. Like Memorial Day, it is the Church’s witness to the resurrection and that new life given to all of us in Jesus Christ. But the days do grow short, like our lives and the darkness creeps closer.

Our ancestors near All Hallows Eve often built bonfires to ward off the spirits they believe came around this night. We no longer fear such spirits, if you go outside at night, its never truly pitch black with the glare of our cities, not like the deep darkness our ancestors had with the night. But it isn’t the spirits that lie in the darkness I fear but the life our culture says is the real life. That is the darkness around us today. As one professor put it as he reflected on the saints,
“Unlike the celebrity, and all who desire to be celebrities, the saint is the one who rejects such an identity and continually returns to the fact that they are who God says they are, no more and no less. The saint repeatedly turns from the identity others attempt to impose on him or her and only identifies himself or herself as God's beloved son or daughter. The saint sees the notoriety and prestige that the celebrity has (and the rest of us seek) as an illusion . . . The saint is different from the rest of us, not in being sinless but in the awareness of their sin and the need for repentance. Unlike the rest of us who try to cover or excuse our sin in order to appear sinless, the saint exposes his or her sin in order to become ever more aware of God's forgiveness and love. Likewise, unlike the rest of us who seek celebrity and wealth in order to make us bigger than we would otherwise be, the saint seeks littleness . . . When all else is stripped away, we are no more than God's creation - God's beloved sons and daughters . . . In contrast to the ladder of success our culture tells us we should climb, the saint's journey is downward. Indeed, we enter heaven as we descend into the littleness of the child who is aware of nothing but their father's love. This will be our heavenly state, but the saint, unlike the rest of us, desires to live as close as possible to that state now. [James Danaher, Professor of Philosophy at Nyack College, New York, in "The Saint," New Blackfriars, volume 90/issue 1027, May 2009.]
On this All Hallows Eve as we prepare in merriment to remember the saints and our faithful departed, may God help us to live lives that mirror the saints and help spread God’s light and love throughout the world. Let us pray.

Almighty Father, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, has conquered evil and death, illuminating even the darkest valley. Therefore, we entreat you: Protect us from the enemy, Defend us from all evil, and give us the grace, to walk in the light of your Son, who lives and reigns, with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

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