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notre dame montreal

All Saintstide

Halloween, All Saints or All Hallows & All Souls

An abbreviated form of this service was preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
1 November 1998

The last day of October marks the beginning in the church of a period known as Hallowtide 'All Saintstide' when Christian remember those who have died.

All-Hallows Eve, or Halloween, October 31

Halloween has Celtic origins being originally the feast of Sanhain, the last night of the Celtic year, when all kinds of spirits were thought to be active. It was a night of danger signifying the change from Autumn to Winter, it was a night when feasts were held for the dead and animals killed for the Winter. On this night fires were lit in the belief that light had power over darkness, hence pumpkin lanterns to frighten away witches and ghosts. The ashes of fires were sprinkled on the land to frighten the evil spirits away. In England bonfires are now lit on Guy Fawkes Night, but other countries still stick to Halloween. On this day people play with apples, apple bobbing was done in the Celtic belief that the branches of the apple tree helped dead souls to pass into their heaven. They dress up as witches and evil spirits and ghosts. We make pumpkins and put candles inside and the idea is that the light and scary face will frighten evil spirits away. More recently we have seen the spreading of children dressed up behaving badly doing trick or treat, the practice seemingly fitting in with the idea of a time of devilment.

Of course many people are unsure about whether children should be involved at all in all of this. Personally I made a pumpkin with my children this year and I think Halloween can be a good time for children to explore the concept of the dark side of life. Within the boundaries of games and costumes they can experience their fear of the dark and their images of evil, all in the safety of make believe and items bought from the supermarket. But evil can be more sinister and just as some people are injured by fireworks so too there are those who are affected by involvement in sinister rituals. It is important that Halloween remains a game and that children's pranks are kept within the realms of play. As Christians there are lessons which we must bring out of Halloween

  • As Christians we need not fear any enemies. Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death God is still with us. There are no powers of darkness which can overcome us God has triumphed over evil
  • Impress on children that Halloween is the eve of the holy day of All Saints and All Souls.

All Saints Day, November 1

The word Hallow means 'Holy', and so All-Hallows refers to the Saints—the Holy Ones. Those who died for their faith or who lived extraordinary lives. This day dates back to the 5th century Antioch in Syria when the church dedicated a day to the memory of all those who had been killed for their faith. Until then the church had remembered martyrs on special days of the year, but there became more martyrs than days in the year, and there were some whose names were not known.

A saint is not given blanket approval, we know that they may have faults. A proverb tells us that 'a man cannot be a hero to his own valet,' the message being that familiarity breeds contempt, and it is probably true that the definition of a saint is somebody who lived a long time ago and who has not been researched well enough. They also led mucky lives and yet we applaud their courage as examples of their commitment and faith. The saints are honoured because of their heroism, their courage, it has nothing to do with station in life.

A saint could be described as somebody who has co-operated with the grace of God, known the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. They will all be dead. They will have made some sacrifice for the people or the community in which they lived, they all tried to follow Jesus. Saints are often remembered for particular deeds of kindness and symbols are used which are related to their special deeds,

  • St. Martin of Tours is represented by a cloak which he cut in half to give to a shivering beggar
  • Catherine of Alexandria is shown with a spiked wheel &
  • St. Sebastian usually holds an arrow—as a reminder of the terrible methods of their respective martyrdoms.

The saints are our ancestors on earth and precede us in heaven. Many Christians experience a strong sense that the saints are still with us, and that they watch over us and pray to God for us. Although dead they are members of Christ's Church and we use this day to give thanks for the lives of all the saints as they are examples to us. Saints are created as signs of hope, that the gospel really can change lives. Somebody is not made a saint at canonisation, it is rather an acknowledgement that somebody was a saint and is therefore in heaven and not neglectful of the needs of the world, through the communion of saints.

There are many saints who are known only to their neighbours and God alone. Perhaps you too could be a saint—But in the NT saint is often used to describe all those who are followers of Christ, the people called to holiness in him. Not just those who were extra-specially good. So does this apply to Christians now? Are all saints? The answer must be Yes! All Saints Day is an occasion to celebrate those who never picked up the title 'saint', but were nevertheless known as holy to God. In other words, All Saints Day is a celebration of ordinary Christians everywhere, at every time, who have tried to live the Gospel life.

You might find it hard to accept that people who are just ordinary can be saints. The saints are people who are supposed to be good at things ordinary people like us are not good at. They have qualities we don't have. They have patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. We envy them their qualities; that's why we call them saints in the first place. Saints are other people, people we read about, but not very many of the people we actually know. The trouble is, seen in that way, saints can be people who put us down, they're so different, so special that we'd never recognise one if we saw one. They put us down, because we find ourselves so contrasted to them. They are much better, much holier than I can ever be—that's what a saint is. But might it not be that I have qualities or virtues that other people envy and aspire to? Might it not be that I'm putting myself down wrongly?

Surely, none of us can be so far from sainthood that we totally lack all saintly virtues? I might lack patience, but perhaps I have modesty. I might lack courage, but perhaps I have charity. In fact, those who are trying hardest to practise their Christian faith may be those who are least aware of their own best qualities and virtues. So let's not put ourselves down by comparing ourselves unfavourably with the saints. Let's recognise that we have saintly qualities too, perhaps not always as well-developed or focussed as in those recognised as saints, but they're there.

We all find ourselves in situations from time to time which can evoke a saintly, holy response in us. Most of us have at some time known poverty, worked for justice, been bereaved, suffered for conscience sake, and so on. You and I can be saints, when we respond to the challenge of a particular situation, using a conscience formed by prayer and faith in Jesus Christ. Let's not be so obsessed with our failings that we forget our moments of saintliness.

Today is a good day to remember that we are all saints. We are all called to be special ones, chosen by God and set apart for his service. We are all called to make sacrifices for our Lord as he gave the ultimate sacrifice for us. We are all called to share in the benefits of being his chosen ones to inherit the kingdom of God.

All Souls Day, November 2

On this day we pray not just for the Saints but for all of our loved ones. In 1048 Odilo, the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery at Cluny near Paris instructed his monks to use this day as a day of remembrance and prayer for all the departed, this day was made official in the 14C. In the Christian Church we remember the Church not just as those who are living but also those who have died, they are just as much the church as we are and the Christian Church has two names for this, those who are living are called the church militant, and those have died are called the church triumphant. This time of year is an important time to cherish the memory of those who have died and who have gone before us. As we celebrate their memory we can know and be glad that they share with us in Christ's eternal kingdom.

Death has lost its sting for us! People find the whole idea of death difficult and to have a special day to remember those who have died is not an easy thing for some people. An old and respected elder of the Church was once asked, "What will happen to you when you die?" He answered, "I shall immediately depart into an eternal life of joy and bliss—but come now, let us not talk of such unpleasant subjects!" Wonderful doctrine, great news, the heart of the gospel—but no one wants to talk about it. Woody Allen said, "You know Death can really spoil a weekend." But not just death but also talk of death. So we hide behind humour sometimes. They say that when Oscar Wilde was on his deathbed he raised himself up on one arm, pointed to the wall, and said, "Either that wallpaper goes or I do." And so he did. Sometimes we just avoid the subject altogether. You can turn to the obituary section of the daily paper and find that we "pass away," "pass on," "go to our reward," "or are reunited with loved ones," We do so "peacefully," "suddenly" or "after a long illness." But it takes a powerful magnifying glass ever to find the words, "he died on Friday."

In our society we are protected from death. It is possible for a person to go through their whole life and not to be in contact with a dead body. A fear of death is natural but a tendency to turn our back on the dead and the bereaved is not a Christian thing to do. For Christians Death is not such a distressing subject and we must not allow our minds and our thinking to become distorted by the ideas of those around us who have no faith. At this time in the year of the church we can really think and speak about those who have died and not in hushed tones. We can remember and feel our loss and that is the purpose of the service which we will hold tonight. We celebrate the lives of those whom we have known and love and we pray for their peace, and of course it is a time to recognise that these people had impact upon our lives and are a continuing presence in our memories, in our affections, and in their abiding influence upon us.

One of the most common misunderstandings of Christianity is that it is primarily concerned with giving people a recipe for how to be good, or in the words of Dorothy Sayers "How to be kind to granny and the cat." But this misses it all. As Ernest Bloch, the German philosopher says: "It was not the morality of the sermon on the mount which enabled Christianity to conquer Roman Paganism but the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead." What God has in mind for us is something of a new order, as different as a seed is from its bloom, as different, he says, as the earth is from the stars. I tell you a mystery, said the Apostle Paul, 'we shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed.'

Let's be clear here about one thing. When we say the word 'resurrection' we are not talking about the mere revival of the life you and I already know. God forbid that 70 or 80 years of aching bones, failing health and moral failings should stretch into an eternity! We are talking about a new and wonderful kind of existence where you will be you, your character, body, mind and emotion all made perfect. The you will be the real you at last. A story is sometimes told to children of water larvae little beetle like creatures that live beneath the water and they one by ones loose their friends as they go towards the surface of the water and they don't see them anymore. Then they agree that the next one to go will come back and tell the others what is going on. The next one leaves and as he passes through the surface of the water he becomes a dragonfly. He flies around and he knows how wonderful it is, but as he tries to go back through the water and tell his friends he cannot, he finds that he is unable to return. But he doesn't worry because he knows that one day they too will leave their watery existence to live a new life.

I like the way C. S. Lewis finishes his Narnia Chronicles, books written for children but best read by adults. The closing paragraph of the last chapter in the last book called The Last Battle put its this way: The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Or as Paul tells it:

O Death where is thy sting? O Grave where is thy Victory?
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

 

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