Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Grandson bragging

Well, it's "All Saints Eve" and I get this chance to do some Grandson bragging. My Grandson, Jack, is now four months and a week old. He is a real joy to my heart.
Earlier this month Sarah had an emergency appendectomy and after her hospital stay she and Chris came out to live with us so that Sarah could recuperate. Well, that meant that for several days Jack lived with us and I had the time of my life. Sure, there's crying and diapers and spitting up... (remember the saying in Proverbs about 'where there is no oxen there's a clean stall'?). But, a Grandson's smile at his Grandpa is enough to melt the heart!

So, without further adieu, my Grandson, Jackson...age four months.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Celbrating All Saints Day

Tomorrow is October 31st, which means that all sorts of young people will be dressed in costumes, and will soon be "trick or treating" Wednesday night in most cities in the U.S. and some other countries.

I hope it does not surprise you to know that "Halloween" (by that name) started out as a Christian celebration?

“Hallow”, in Old English, means "holy" or "sacred” (“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” begins the Lord’s Prayer). Therefore, "Hallows' Eve," or "Halloween" simply means "the evening of holy persons" and refers to the evening before All Saints Day, which is always on November 1 in both Anglican and Catholic calendars. Halloween is a mixture of Celtic religious ideas and Christian martyrology.

In the early years when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, so many martyrs died for their faith, that the Church set aside special days to honor them. For example, in 607 Emperor Phocas presented to the pope the beautiful Roman Pantheon temple. The pope removed the statues of Jupiter and the pagan gods and consecrated the Pantheon to "all saints" who had died from Roman persecution in the first three hundred years after Christ. Many bones were brought from other graves and placed in the rededicated Pantheon church. Since there were too many martyrs for each to be given a day, they were lumped together into one day. In the next century, All Saints Day was changed by Pope Gregory III to today's date--November l. People prepared for their celebration with a night of vigil on Hallows' Eve -- Halloween (possibly because of the strong holdover influence of the Celtic Samhein festival which many Christians in Ireland, Britain Scotland and Wales had continued to observe).

In the 10th century, Abbot Odela of the Cluny monastery added the next day--November 2nd--as "All Souls" Day" to honor not just the martyrs, but all Christians who had died. People prayed for the dead, but many unchristian superstitions continued. People in Christian lands offered food to the dead--as it had been in pagan times. The superstitious also believed that on these two days, souls in purgatory would take the form of witches, toads, or demons and haunt persons who had wronged them during their lifetime. As happens so often in Church history, sacred Christian festivals can absorb so many pagan customs that they lose their significance as Christian holidays.

While there are many reasons to avoid Halloween, the day has significance in the church for remembering the many who gave their lives as martyrs. Sure, as an evangelical, I don’t agree with the narrow definition of “saint” that has made some more prominent after death than others. The word “saint” comes from the greek word, “hagios”, which is simply means “holy ones”. Paul uses it as a way of greeting communities of believers at the beginning of most of his letters: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians and Philippians to name a few.

For me, there is great significance in celebrating these two days of Oct. 31st and Nov. 1st. As someone who loves church history, my own love of this day of celebration comes from the history of the Reformation. Martin Luther was an oppressed Christian monk trying to win God’s favor through penance and works, even after his ordination to be a Priest in 1507. His mentor, a wiser man with a better understanding of the Gospel, ordered Luther to begin studies as a theologian. Luther immersed himself in the study of the Bible and the early Church. Soon terms like penance and righteousness took on new meaning for Luther, and he became convinced that the Church had lost sight of several of the central truths of Christianity taught in Scripture — the most important of them being the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Luther began to teach that salvation is completely a gift of God's grace received by trusting God alone by faith. The church in Wittenberg, Germany, that he also pastored was called “All Saints Church”. After a series of confrontations with some church charlatans who paraded “indulgences” before people as a way of purchasing their way out of purgatory, Luther could stand know more. On October 31, 1517 – that’s right, 490 years ago tomorrow, Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church “95 Theses”, or disputations, arguments, against the faulty theology of indulgences, and other issues of the theology of salvation, arguing for the need for the gospel to be defined as salvation by grace through faith, alone. His purpose was to make an open invitation to debate these arguments. Well, we know what happened. The church in Rome called him a “drunken German monk”, and within a few months he was declared a “heretic” – kicked out of the church. The “Protesting” church movement that is our lineage, began around Luther because of his bold desire to bring truth to the church, coupled with the greed and power hungry pride of the Roman leaders who fought much needed reforms. Certainly there is much to be desired at times in our own Protestant family tree. We hardly feel we can call what we see “saintly”; but it is on this day of celebration that I am reminded of the great price that truth and freedom for our faith has come.

SO…let’s change this day of Halloween into a celebration of remembrance for all the saints who sought to obey Good and model for us a life of service to him and his church.

Years ago Linda and I concerned for what Halloween meant in our culture, and the pull it had on all kids, decided to do something positive instead of reacting negatively to the day. We made Halloween a huge family celebration of Bowling and Pizza…and because so many people were trick or treating, we generally had both bowling alleys and pizza parlors pretty much to ourselves. Our kids loved it…looked forward to it every year. In fact, as time went along others began to join us until at it’s zenith our church fellowship took over an entire bowling alley! As our kids grew up we have stopped going to the bowling alley, but the pizza party still remains. In honor of Martin Luther, I drink a German toast with an Italian pastry!

With warm greetings to all you saints