If you have children in your household or if you work with children on a regular basis—or, heck, if you happen to bump into a child this week—then you know the big news: Halloween is this Friday! Kids are planning their costumes, talking about their favorite candies and looking forward to all the parties. In my family, we’re down to only one trick-or-treater, but she’s had her costume for several weeks now. And thanks to our church’s Trunk-or-Treat tradition, she’ll be able to wear her costume twice and get twice as much candy!
Halloween in a huge festival in our culture. Did you know that $1.9 billion worth of candy is sold in the United States at Halloween? (That’s not counting all those healthy neighbors who give out apples and raisins.) But in all the hubbub around Halloween, we sometimes forget how the festival came into being.
The candy and costumes get all of our attention, but the truth is that there is another, older celebration—an actual “holy day”—that Christians have celebrated on November 1 for hundreds of years: All Saints Day. The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” but for many years it was All Saints Day that got more attention. Even today in many cultures, November 1 is celebrated much more than Halloween as families gather to worship and to visit the gravesides of loved ones.
All Saints Day is a holy day, one that invites the church into a special time of reflection and remembrance. In our congregation we celebrate All Saints Sunday on the first Sunday of November every year. We name aloud those members of our congregation who have passed away in the past year, and we thank God for their lives and ministry among us. And we are reminded that, when we gather for worship as the people of God, we are surrounded by what the writer of Hebrews calls “a great cloud of witnesses,” saints of every age and time who have gone before us.
So, All Saints is a time to remember the believers who have gone before us. But there’s more. All Saints is also a time to remember that we are called to be saints. Here and now. I know, most of us balk at that idea. We would never claim the word “saints” for ourselves. “To be a saint,” we tell ourselves, “you have to be really, really good. Holy. Almost perfect. I know my flaws and my sins all too well. I could never be a saint.”
But if you go back to some of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he is constantly calling people “saints.” He addresses 2 Corinthians “To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia.” He calls the Philippians “saints in Christ Jesus.” He addresses his letter to the Romans to “all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” And in the final words of the Bible, John of Patmos pronounces this benediction: “May the grace of Jesus Christ be with all the saints.”
That’s you and me. We are called to be saints. We are saints. Not because we are perfect or holy. Not because we do all the right things. Not because we come to church and go to Bible study and tithe and serve food to the hungry. No, we are saints because Jesus Christ has saved us. We are saints because God loves us. We are saints because we are forgiven and redeemed people.
So, in case no one has ever told you before, you are a saint! It is a name given to you by a loving a gracious God. May each of us do all we can to embrace the name and grow into it every day. Happy All Saints Day!