By the Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
Most people love Hallowe'en, or at least they did when they were kids. Some Christians are "opposed" to it because of its pagan roots, and its supposed origin in worship of the Devil. To participate in it is to participate in "occultist" activity.
Well, here we have a problem. Christian tradition, especially its worship (including the liturgical calendar), has deep roots in two sources: the Jewish tradition of the time of the apostles and pagan practices throughout the ages. Christians have a long, long history of adopting and adapting pagan practices. All Saints' Day is a case in point. Many northern European cultures had a day at this time of the year (often considered the first day of the new year) when the dead were said to communicate with the living. Christians' ongoing relationship with the dead (what we call the communion of saints) meant that it naturally gravitated toward these celebrations even if it could not adopt all of the practices associated with it. Voila, All Saints Day.
Dressing up in costumes is fun. Of course, we want to avoid costumes that are racist, or that promote violence. Those are contrary to our values. Halloween is not a day off from upholding the dignity of every human being.
Hallowe'en and All Saints may be a very good time to have a conversation with young people about evil and death, since we do seem to dance around its edges as part of our celebration. How can that conversation go? Lots of ways, but here are three basic talking points:
- We participate in evil when we choose to do injustice, choose not to make peace (reconciliation), and when we refuse to love our neighbor as ourselves (and that includes not loving ourselves).
- We all do these things from time to time and God is always ready to forgive us if we can be honest about what we have done.
- Jesus came to struggle against evil and death and they appeared to win when he died on the cross. But he did not stay dead. He came back from the dead to proclaim that evil and death had been defeated once and for all. Any power they have after he was raised is temporary.
If you have this conversation, you just might get a question about the devil, and even hell. Is there really a devil? Is there a real hell?
Good luck. This is tricky ground. It is easy just to say "No, we don't believe in these things," but that is too simple an answer. Here's my answer.
I don't know if there is a real devil. I do know that there is real evil in the world and that I am often tempted to participate in it. I also have experienced evil that could not be explained simply by human will (someone choosing to do bad). We do not know where this evil comes from so sometimes we speak about the devil, or Satan, as its source, giving evil a name and a place (hell). Whether or there is a Satan or a Hell, we know this: Jesus has conquered them. At Easter we sing about Jesus smashing the gates of hell so that no one has to stay there any longer.
There are lots of things in this world to be afraid of, lots and lots and lots and lots. And it is OK to be afraid of them. But they cannot take you away from God. When you were baptized, the priest put oil on your head, made the sign of the cross and said, "Nicole, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever." You are chosen by God. You are a saint. Nothing can change that, that's how strong God's love is.