October 31, 2004
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Have a Nice Day
Well, good morning. Happy Samhain (SOW 'in). Happy Halloween. Happy All Saints Day. And Happy Reformation Day - as well as Have a Nice Fall Harvest Week. And it's UNICEF Day. Have a good one of those, as well. John was going to preach a sermon this morning on "The Church Reformed and Always Reforming". He also was going to talk about All Saints Day.
Not having his sermon notes, I really don't know what he was going to say about either of these celebrations - so last night, I had to do a little research on both of them, and a few others. My sermon title is simply: Have a Nice Day.
In the beginning, chronologically speaking, about this time of year there was a pre-Christian, pagan, celebration that started it all. That pagan festival was spelled Samhain -- pronounced "SOW-in" in Ireland, SOW-een in Wales, "SAV-en" in Scotland or even "SAM-haine" in non Gaelic speaking countries. SOW'in is the "Last Harvest" or "Summer's End" festival. While the ancient Celts recognized this Holiday as the end of the "old" year, some groups did not celebrate the coming of the "new year" until Yule, December 21. Some consider the time between SOW'in and Yule as a time which does not even exist on the Earthly plane. The "time which is no time" was considered in the "old days" to be both very magickal and very dangerous. So even today, we celebrate this Holiday with a mixture of joyous celebration and 'spine tingling" scariness.
From a Biblical perspective, even the Israelites had a fall harvest festival, the Festival of Booths lasting seven days. The people lived in "booths" or small tents during the celebration to remind them of their wilderness wanderings before arriving at the Promised Land. I know these things because I have been reading the Book of Leviticus all week.
Feast of All Martyrs
In a different time, in a different part of the world, would be the Feast of All Martyrs. In the early years when Rome persecuted Christians, so many martyrs died for their faith, that the Church set aside special days to honor them. In 607 Emperor Phocas presented to Pope Boniface IV the beautiful Roman Pantheon temple. The Pope quickly 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.
The first Feast of All Martyrs was celebrated May 13, 609, when the Pope dedicated the newly consecrated Pantheon as a church, in honor of the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs, including those whose names were unknown, and therefore, had no feast day.
Feast of All Saints
Originally, only martyrs could become saints, but when persecution of Christians ended, all those who had lived holy lives or been credited with miracles could be granted sainthood. The Feast of Martyrs was renamed The Feast of All Saints, to accommodate the goodly people deemed "saintly" even though they had not been torn apart by lions. During the Reformation the Protestant churches understood "saints" in its New Testament usage as including all believers and reinterpreted the feast of All Saints as a celebration of the unity of the entire Church.
About a hundred years later, the day for All Saints Day was changed to November 1, making it an autumn festival and bringing it in close proximity to other autumn festivals such as SOW'in.
"SOW" is not "Harllow." "Hallow", in Old English, means "holy" or "sacred." Therefore, "Hallows' Eve," or "Halloween" simply means "the evening of holy persons" and refers to the evening before All Saints Day, tomorrow, November 1. But it still was the same day as SOW'in. Confusion was bound to exist.
Some of our more uptight Christian brethren have taken umbrage at the celebration of Halloween by children today. These churches have been known to sponsor "Fall Harvest" events or "Harvest Celebrations" on or about October 31 in which kids dress in costumes and collect candy. It's a party, but NOT a Halloween party - that would be pagan. But Halloween means the evening before All Saints Day. :::sigh::: But I digress.
All Souls Day
Not satisfied with one day to honor the dead, in the 10th century, the church added the next day--November 2nd--as "All Souls Day" to honor not just the martyrs, but all Christians who had died. People took this day to pray for the souls of their dead, but many pagan traditions also remained attached to the day.
For instance, food was often offered to the dead on All Souls' Day -- as it had been in pagan times. Not sure if it included Snickers bars, but probably oranges and sweetmeats of one kind or another. It was also believed that on these two days, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, souls in purgatory would take the form of witches, toads, or demons and haunt persons who had wronged them during their lifetime.
That reminds me -- November 2 is also Election Day. Don't forget to pick your favorite witch, toad or demon -- and vote for him.
Celebrations Across the Globe
All Saints' Day is a big deal in many parts of the world.
In Santiago, Guatemala, they fly giant kites for All Saints' Day. The activity began many years ago, when a magician told the locals that they could rid their cemetery of evil spirits by scaring the spirits with kites (The noise of kites in the wind was supposed to frighten them). To this day, the local youth create beautiful, massive kites to fly in the cemetery of Santiago on November 1st and 2nd.
A number of Louisiana communities, such as Lacombe (near New Orleans), continue an All Saints' tradition brought over from France. In the days preceding All Saints' Day, folks visit their local cemetery to clean the graveyard, as well as paint the graves and decorate them with flowers and lighted candles. On November 1st, candlelight vigils are held, and the local priest comes by for a brief ceremony. It's a festive evening amongst the historic, above-ground graves.
Decorated graves and candlelight vigils are also found in Europe and in the Philippines, where families play bingo and mahjong during their visits to the cemeteries.
Reminds me of my childhood visits to Wyoming, Illinois for Memorial Day. This was the day my father and his brothers returned to the town of their birth to help my grandmother care for the graves of deceased family members, cleaning them up for spring and checking out the peonie bushes on each one of them. Somebody probably had to go back in the fall to get the graves and the bushes ready for winter.
But I have a feeling that John wasn't going to talk to you about any of these days or these family traditions. He was thinking about Reformation Day - and that's exactly what the Presbyterian Calendar has listed for this day.
John has been reviewing Reformed and Presbyterian history with us during the Sunday morning adult forum, and most of us, myself included, are feeling a whole lot more Presbyterian as a result, more in the Reformed Tradition.
Reformation Day is an important church festival that is celebrated on the last Sunday in October, because on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This action more or less unintentionally set into motion the series of events that we now call the Protestant Reformation. Roughly half of the Christians in the world today - one billion of them - worship today in churches that exist because of Luther's actions, more than half of them directly and knowingly continuing in the traditions established by Luther.
Perhaps it was only by accident that Luther nailed his sermon notes on that door at the end of the harvest, end of the year. But his action did mark the end of one way of being Christian and the beginning of a New Way, or a return to the Original Way. The Reformation was the great rediscovery of the Gospel, the good news of salvation by grace through faith.
Martin Luther and his colleagues came to understand that if we sinners had to earn salvation by our own merits and good works, we would be lost and completely without hope. But through the working of the Holy Spirit, the reformers rediscovered the Gospel -- the heartfelt belief that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to redeem and justify us -- whether we deserved it or not.
On Reformation Day, we glorify God for what he accomplished in 16th century Germany through His servant, Dr. Martin Luther -- the recovery of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
So How Does It All Fit Together Today?
SOW'in, All Saints Day, Halloween, Reformation Day - we are celebrating them all today. The State Fair has been over for some time, the farmers have their crops put away, our flowers have been pulled for the winter, the snow is on the ground, the kids are clamoring for costumes and candy, and we're settling in for winter.
We are entering the time of year for reflection. We have a little time right now. The official thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching, followed by the Christmas excitement that lasts for at least a month. Right now, for just a little while, maybe we can rest and reflect.
Who are our saints? Just like I asked the children at the beginning of the service, who are those to whom you would like to send up a prayer saying, "Thanks. Thanks for being there for me when I needed you."
During the prayers of the people, I'm going to ask you to share a name - or several names - of your personal saints in this life. So begin thinking of those for whom you'd like to offer a bit of candy, a piece of rhubarb pie, some sign of how much they have meant to you on your life's journey.
And, we can use this All Saint's Day to think of and give thanks for many of our spiritual ancestors right here at Immanuel. Those who helped build this House of Worship, helped build this House of Worship in the Reformed and Always Reforming Tradition, and in the process, helped build us into the people we are and are becoming.
Mary Jane is going to read our Immanuel All Saints Honor Roll:
Amen Reformation Sunday/All Saints Prayer
O God, our Creator and Sustainer and Renewer, we come before you with humble appreciation that your power is expressed toward us in a mighty love. We are grateful for this opportunity to worship, for the courage and insights of our forebearers who cared enough to speak up and speak out for what they believed to be the best ways to return your love, to act upon it. We pray for the strength in ourselves to protest when that is called for and to keep silent when that, too, serves your will.
We cherish the rich heritage of our church. We ask that you alert us to the contemporary meanings of our history and traditions. We seek not to live in the past, but by your grace, to let the best of the past live through us.
O Lord, make us a grateful people. Your love and guidance has come to us through many persons. Help us celebrate the lives of these persons as we name them as your saints. Some of them are living, others have completed their physical lives here on earth.
Some have touched us personally, others have touched and called into question the institutions and structures of our society. But all have shaken our being - all have been examples of lives of wholeness, saintliness, godliness.
Lord we thank you for the life of:
Lord, we thank you.
Lord, we thank you.
Lord, we thank you.
(and so forth)
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there no evil can touch them. They are in peace and their hope is full of immortality. For God has tested them, and found them worthy.
Thanks be to God.
Saints and Goblins
Do you know what today is? Or really tonight? (Halloween). What do you do on Halloween. (listen for answers). People used to be really afraid of witches and ghosts. That's why at Halloween we dress in scary outfits and set up spooky decorations.
Do you know how Halloween started? "Hallow" means "holy", and "een" sort of means "evening" - the evening or night before a Holy Day. That means tomorrow must be a special day. Know what it is?
All Saints Day. November 1. The day we honor special people, our loved ones, who have gone on to heaven before us. We call them "saints" because they did many good things when they were alive on earth and they loved us. When I was a little girl, there was a neighbor lady down the street who always brought me rhubarb pies because she knew I liked them so much. Her name was Mrs. Stoikowitz. I loved Mrs. Stoikowitz; and she loved me. She died a few years ago and is in heaven now. But I still remember the kind things she did for me and my family.
Do you have a friend or a neighbor or a teacher who has been really nice to you? What do you think? Maybe they could be a "saint"? You don't have to be perfect to be a saint - just someone who is trying to be as good as they can be.
And when our loved ones pass on to be with God, we believe they are supporting us and cheering for us from heaven.
We may have fun on Halloween, the night before All Saints Day. But the next morning, when we wake up let's remember that we have no need to fear ghosts and goblins, God and the "saints who have gone on before us" are there to love and protect us always.
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