For All the Saints

By The Rev. Canon Leonard Freeman

For all the Saints…

For you and me … for those who have gone before — for those who will come.

len-freemanThere is something very upbeat about All Saints Day. It is one of the most “up” days of the church year, it has always felt to me … I’ve had all my children baptized on All Saints … and I have six of them … without a lot of intellectual thought, but a kind of gut, intuitive “Yes” to All Saints, that Lindsay and I share…

When the week began I thought I might have to turn this into a talk about the martyrdom aspects of Sainthood– the suffering and perseverance aspects, as Wall Street turned ever south…

Maybe, long-term we will still have to take that approach. Perhaps we might want to think about all that in terms of the Halloween to All Saints transition.

Halloween, after all, is when the ghosties and ghoulies come out to play… and we all look into, and play with, the “dark, spooky” forces of life.

Many of you have heard me talk before on how Halloween gets its name — All Hallows Eve — because it is the night BEFORE the Saints Day…

I would like, this morning, to take a look at that All Hallows / All Saints transition … and to why it is that we get both enamored as a culture with Halloween, but also, in my guts at least, intuitively respond with a great YES to
All Saints Day as well

Halloween, as many of you may know, has roots in older, darker traditions than the Christian faith … Samhein, and the darkening of the year,  brought people a sense of time when the boundary lines between the twilight world of the dead, and that of the living, came close together … the dead indeed were more present, more “out”…

And so one dressed up like the dead, like the ghosts and ghoulies … both to confuse them, and to protect against and ward them off … Much like primitive/hunter persons dressed themselves up in the skin of a bear or a wolf–to help them “take on” the powers of these predators they wrestled with, so that they might be victorious over them…. you had to “get into their heads” as it were, get into their skins … To catch the bear, and protect yourself from one, you had to think and feel like one …

“Walk a mile in my shoes” might be the modem equivalent … We do it all the time…

“I want to sell widgets … how does my potential customer feel? Let me put myself into his or her skin-s—so that I can figure out how best to approach them to sell them a widget…. “So Halloween came down to us, and to Christian times, as an already established “taking on” of the dark powers … in an attempt to deal with them.

So Halloween came down to us, and to Christian times, as an already established “taking on” of the dark powers … in an attempt to deal with them.

But also it came to us, as in another set of ways it comes down to us as 21st century people. Because one of the dangers of “taking on” other identities, is that one can come to identify with them as well…. to in fact “buy into them” as reality…. And earlier people did. Many came to see the dark forces of nature and blood and fire, as the grim reality period. The ONLY reality. To be dealt with, to be appeased, to go with … to accept naked blood power as the underlying reality of created life.

And so we had blood sacrifice, and the conjuring up of spirits, and druidic gaining’s of power … as real things … not make-believe Halloween goodies, but as reality … to be worked with and gone into.

We 21st century humans can look around at our world in other, but similar, terms — see the same grim realities … and believe that they are the only reality, to be bought into, to be used … to be worshipped, perhaps not at overt altars, but in the functional altars of how we live our lives …

Power. Winning through intimidation. The fittest the ONLY ones fit to survive. Number one, the only one worth watching out for … the ways of blood and violence and cynicism the real ways to accomplish success in the world…

It was Stalin, in WWII, who, when Winston Churchill mentioned something about the Pope as a force to be reckoned with — Stalin quipped –“and just how many battalions does the Pope command?” As if the only power that mattered was, as Mao said, the power that comes out of the end of a gun…

So we come back to All Hallows Eve and its move on to All Saints Day … for in the Christian relooking, and moving on of the realities expressed in Samhein, there came a new sense.

Yes, the dark powers were reality. But more real, and indeed victorious, were the powers of God.

All places are God’s, and there are no others, were one of the senses that these Christians knew. There were not: Druid places and Christian places, or Good places and Bad places. All reality was ONE reality — in the end, it is all God’s.

So the ghoulies and ghosties have their day, then, their EVENING, before the last great day when all the Saints rise up and flow in victorious over their powers…

My son, walking to school the other day put it rather well I thought … we were talking about the connection between the two days … and he said

It’s like Star Wars — Halloween is like “the Empire Strikes Back”– the last lash back of the evil emperor…. All Saints is “The Return of the Jedi!”

Pretty good, I said, son. In fact, very good. It is just like that.

We Christians know something about how the movie comes out… deep in our souls and in the revelation that comes to us — the Jedi win out. The force of good swamps over the very real, but finally not victorious, dark powers.

That basic optimism of life is a uniquely Christian heritage.

Because, the truth is that life itself does not give a clear answer to the questions: “who wins?” or “does it even matter?”

On the raw data, there is as much room for cynicism and naked blood power, as for goodness and compassion… Neither side tips the scale….

As the tragedies of life question the goodness, so the inexplicable rises of good challenge the dark. …

But to pick one — to choose “who wins”— however you call it, it is an act of faith.

Our Christian ancestors could face into the druidic and other blood sacrifice / nature religions with credibility and a new promise.

They understood about blood. They understood about sacrifice. Only now, no human or animal life would ever need to be poured out again … because the blood of the ONE had been shed.

It is why the druids converted. It was not all guns and swords. But because the new faith took squarely the dark realities of life that these others understood, and moved them to a new, hope-filled place.

And that has not changed.

What our brothers and sisters knew then, we can know now. There is another reality we can grow into….

If we can reach back into our beast and bear sides — donning their skins to learn them from the inside … so also can we reach up to take upon us other skins … the skin of the saints… to raise us up.

We can touch into what it feels like from the inside– to be righteous … to be compassionate…. to be of God. And in the doing we can be moved there.

———

One of the failings of the secular society of the sixties was its naiveté. The secular culture thought, and still does, that if you got rid of “religions” then what you would find was sweetness and light … people being natural and nice to each other.

The reality, as cultures secularized, is that they uncover the blood power, rather than flower power, beneath their fragile surfaces … And so the children of our age toy with the dark and demonic realities — horror films and “Freddy Part 42” — the vampire kids of the New York City night life…

We can dress like the beasts or the saints. The choice is ours.

We become what we play at… what we dress up as…

I sing a song of the saints of God; the old hymn goes … the saints of God are just folks, like you and me.. …………and there’s not any reason, no not the least why you & I shouldn’t be ones too…

These youngsters being baptized this day have had a choice made for them — a choice for the side of the saints … a choice made on their behalf by those who love them….

What I want to say is:  Good choice….. Amen.

[The Rev. Canon Leonard Freeman; Was canon for communication at the National Cathedral in Washington D. C., Christ Church, Short Hills, New Jersey.]