Spooks and Saints

A sermon preached at St. George's All-Age Eucharist, All Saints Sunday, 2nd November 2014, by Margaret Houston

I wonder if anyone went trick or treating, or saw trick or treaters on Halloween. What were they dressed as?

(The congregation mentioned many scary costumes, like ghosts, skeletons, vampires, etc.)

The word Halloween comes from “All Hallow’s Eve.” All Hallows is another way of saying All Saints – the festival we’re celebrating today.  So Halloween, and what we’re doing in church today, are part of the same festival, part of the same story.

Raise your hand if you’ve read the Harry Potter books. What about Narnia?

Harry Potter must face and destroy Voldemort before he can save the wizarding world.

Aslan must die at the hands of the White Witch and her evil mob of hags and monsters before he can rise again and destroy her.

Monsters, witches, ghosts, demons, skeletons, vampires … all symbols of evil and death that must be defeated before good can win out.

Our first story today, the one read by Margot and Hector and Tilly, reminds us of this.  Part of it is the Halloween part, the scary part: every one of us, they read, one day, will die.

On Halloween, we face our fear of death.  When we dress up as something, we have power over it. When we pretend to be ghosts or skeletons or vampires, we explore our fear of death through play – we go out into the dark night, dressed as something scary, and as the leaves fall from the trees and the year dies, we face our own fear of death, through spooky stories and costumes.

All Saints without Halloween is like Narnia without the White Witch, or Harry Potter without Voldemort. It is a world without real risk, without real danger, without real peril. It is false. It doesn’t reflect the world we live in – a world where innocent people die every day, where terrible and scary things happen to all of us, a world filled with violence and sickness and death.  All Saints without Halloween turns God into just another grownup who says “there there” without really listening to our fears. It tries to give us Easter without Good Friday.  For there to be real redemption, there needs to be real danger.

But when Halloween is over, we get All Saints Day.  We get the end of the story. 
That’s what we were asked, at the Halloween part of the story, when Hector reminded us that all of us will die – is this the end of the story?  Has death won after all?  And the answer is no.

After the night of Halloween comes the morning of All Saints.  After the night of death comes the morning of new life, in God’s Kingdom, with all the saints who “nobly fought of old,” a kingdom where, we are told, we won’t turn into ghosts and skeletons and vampires but rather saints – kings and queens, robed in white with crowns on our heads. There will be no more sadness, no more pain, no more fighting and hurting and killing, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

So what kind of people do we need to be to become saints?  Do we need to be strong, powerful, or rich?  Do we need to be really clever?

Well, Jesus told us what sort of people we need to be, in today’s second reading. This reading is like a list of “Rules for Saints.”  Let’s look at some of those rules.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus says.

The Greek word that’s used here for poor means “being a beggar.”  The people who know they need God – people who aren’t stuck up.  People whose spirits long for God – those people are saints.

Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus says.

Jesus always spent time with people in trouble. Here Jesus is saying that if you’re sad or upset, then God has a special place for you. God will comfort and help you. Jesus himself suffered on the cross, so God could be close to us in our sadness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus says.

Saints are people who want things to be right and good – righteousness means doing what God wants.  If you long for a world of justice and peace, if you do what you can to make the world a bit better, then you are following this rule for saints.

Blessed are the merciful, Jesus says, and the peacemakers.

Being merciful means being forgiving and generous. Being a peacemaker might mean setting aside a grudge, or helping two friends or family members who are fighting to make up. We don’t have to travel to war zones to be peacemakers – we can do it in our own lives.

There are many other ways of being saints – those who make art or music, scientists who discover how God’s creation works, teachers and priests and prophets – but this list of Jesus’ is a good rule book for all of us, no matter what our skills and talents are.
I wonder what your favourite part of the story was.

I wonder what the most important part of the story was.  I wonder where you are in the story.
Holland Park Benefice