Saturday night was “Halloween” which we tried hard to avoid. My kids wrote up a polite notice:
We stuck it to the front door with the light on. Managed to deter most of the kids wandering up and down the road. Some might see this as mean, but so be it. Like many Australians, I view Halloween as a commercialised American import, the main purpose of which appears to be the sale of tatty merchandise and unnecessary sweets. My husband has concerns about the glorification of evil – witches, zombies, death, and the possible tinkering with the occult and the Spirit world.
I recognise that many do celebrate and participate, and see it as a harmless fun occasion, and I respect that.
However, when such events involve a sense of entitlement, there can be a darker side, a cruel edge.
This morning’s news reported that in Ipswich, west of Brisbane, police were called when a man wearing a rubber mask, menacing locals with a genuine chainsaw, frightened residents. Revellers were also switching off the Mains Electricity of houses who had not supplied sweets. This was a vindictive and potentially dangerous thing to do – what if there was an ill person dependant on powered oxygen inside? Or somebody fell down stairs when plunged into darkness? These are the evil underbellies of “harmless fun”.
Yesterday morning in church, we made a nod to “All Saints Day”, and in the prayers remembered family and friends who had passed away.
Not a good day to be an orphan. And we ended the Service with one of my all-time favourite hymns “For all the Saints”.
Indeed, it was one we chose for my Dad’s funeral back in March 1985.
A tip? When selecting funeral hymns, if you are one of the chief mourners and sitting in the front pew, consider whether it’s such a good idea to choose one with a rousing tune that requires confident voices and also has EIGHT verses.
We struggled through them that day, and that was uppermost in my mind as I played and sang yesterday, wondering whether I would get through all the verses without my voice cracking or a shedding a tear.
(I did. Just.)
The concept of “Saints” is one that differs quite widely in general usage, and also in various Christian Traditions.
Probably all Christians term Jesus’ original 12 disciples or apostles as Saints. To the extent that books of the bible are attributed to “St. John” and so forth. We name churches and schools as “St. Andrew’s” and similar.
The Catholic Church, however, officially recognizes at least 810 holy men and women as Saints. An independent Catholic media site puts the total at 8,050. But that tally includes saints as well as blesseds and venerables and excludes servants of God, so it’s not very helpful. Plus the site does not explain how it calculated that number.
Throughout the letters of the Biblical New Testament, the people of God are called lots of things. They are the “elect” “faithful brothers” “beloved” “children of God” a “holy nation” and most of all they are called “saints.”
Although “Saint or Sinner?” finds its way onto T-shirts and is even the title of a song, conspicuously absent from this list is the term “sinners.” There is no place I am aware of where the people of God are collectively called “sinners.”
The closest is Paul’s well-known reference to himself as the “foremost” (or “chief”) of sinners in 1 Timothy 1: 15. But, the context makes it plain that Paul is using this term to refer to his old life as a persecutor of the church. He says, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent”.
We might term a friend or colleague a “Saint” when they support us or come through for us during a difficult period of time. Certainly, I have people I consider my own personal “Saints” who have stuck with me not only in the best of times, but also the worst of times. I am blessed to have had in the past, and have at present, these people in my life.
In my younger, single days I was invited to a fancy dress party. My invitation said “Dress as Opposites”. What better opposites than Angel and Devil, I thought? Here is the result. (Unfortunately the photographer had a finger in front the lens but you get the idea). Interestingly enough that particular party was my second encounter with Martin, who would end up being a life-long friend. (See earlier post “Two blondes…”).
[Strangely this outfit was discovered (complete with all accessories), when we cleared out our Adelaide family home. Mum had preserved it in its entirety for 20 years, so I now have it back in my possession, a relic of another age! ]
But sometimes I feel that the creature depicted here – Pure and angelic on the outside, covering the devil’s tail and black stockings below – is how I really am. I have written before of the “Masks” many wear and how it isn’t always easy to “love the you inside”. I know I have struggled in many situations over many years feeling unworthy. Unworthy of a title or position I may have. But mainly I feel unworthy of the concept that as a Christian, and as a “Pastor’s Wife”, that I am somehow especially blessed, or should be extra “Christian” or “Pure”.
It concerns me when people quite sincerely ask me to pray for their relative who is suffering illness or distress. As if I have a magic hotline to above. Of course I am happy to do so, but I don’t believe my prayers are worth any more than anybody else’s. And that really they should pray themselves, if they are a believing person. Because God listens indiscriminately.
The famous parable of the “Prodigal Son” – or the “Forgiving Father”, is found in Luke 15.
‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.
‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything…
So he got up and went to his father.
‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.
‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
A wonderful story of forgiveness and restitution. Interestingly the son saw himself as “no longer worthy”, (which was probably true) yet the Father had the love in his heart to overlook this and instead rejoice at his return.
Nonetheless, I personally consider myself far more “Sinner” than “Saint”. I have put my foot in my mouth more often than I can count. There are many occasions where I have failed to cover myself in glory. I am improving at recognising my failings, I think, but it’s taken a lot of years.
Back to Halloween, celebrated by millions on the night of October 31st. In Australia we tend to consider it an American custom, but few will be aware of its ancient Celtic roots in the Samhain festival. In Celtic Ireland about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was the division of the year between the lighter half (summer) and the darker half (winter). At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through.
The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, food for the ancestors who were in no position it eat it, was ritually shared with the less well off.
Christianity incorporated the honouring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints (All Hallows) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on 2nd November.
As Lutheran Christians, we also have another celebration at this time of year. Most Lutheran churches around the world mark Reformation Sunday on or before October 31st.
What is this all about? A quick history lesson.
Nearly 500 years ago, in 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Roman Catholic theology stated that faith alone, cannot justify man; justification rather depends only on such faith as is active in charity and good works. The benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church.
On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther (at the time a catholic monk) wrote to his bishop, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses. Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw this as a scholarly objection to church practices. Nevertheless there is an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” (A historic Roman general, Crassus is considered the wealthiest man in Roman history, and among the richest men in all history, if not the wealthiest.)
Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory (also attested as ‘into heaven’) springs.”
He insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.
As a consequence, in 1521 Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo and was ordered to appear before the “Diet of Worms” on 3 January 1521.
Here he delivered his famous speech:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
The fact that Reformation Day coincides with Halloween is not mere coincidence. Halloween, being the Eve of All Saints’ Day might have been an entirely appropriate day for Luther to post his 95 Theses against indulgences since the castle church would be open on All Saints’ Day specifically for people to view a large collection of relics. The viewing of these relics was said to promise a reduction in time in purgatory similar to that of the purchase of an indulgence.
Who from their labours rest…
A number of strategies were put in place to smooth the birth and early days of my son James, as the time surrounding Cassie’s birth three years earlier was difficult. James was born on a Friday evening, and I managed to string out my time in the quiet Ararat hospital until noon the following Thursday. Then I had my most capable aunt from Melbourne to stay for a week to ease the transition into home. But from then on, for some weeks I existed in a sea of fog, juggling newborn routines with the needs of an active three year old. It didn’t help that the manse where we lived was adjacent to the church, and the Office was within the house. So although my husband Neil was physically there some of the time, he was also “on duty” and attempting to work, a concept very difficult for a 3-year-old to understand, who of course wanted to interact with Daddy whenever he stepped foot out of the home office. And such a visible residence, which was also a place of work, really wasn’t the hide-way-from-the-world sanctuary ideal for a new Mum.
My kindly Doctor sent around a wonderful nurse, who I had met in pre-natal times. Andrea sat, listened, and then made her assessment. “The wagon is wobbly, but the wheels haven’t fallen off the wagon”. I could have kissed her. Somebody had faith in me. This too would pass.
Amongst her advice: “REST, not necessarily sleep…”
A text was chosen for my Father’s funeral, which we then chose deliberately for my Mother’s funeral 26 years later.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. [2 Timothy 4: 7-8]
Rest. In Peace.
All the Saints dear to our hearts.