By: Pastor Krista Ducker
Main Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-3:
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of[b] the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners,[c] so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
What a great job! Kids are so smart these days!
What Mr. Q mentions near the beginning of his video, is that Halloween originated in pagan rituals that marked the turning of the season--from summer to fall, and the harvest season. These pagan rituals approached the transition of the turning of the season with fear--so the purpose of these ancient traditions was to protect themselves from scary ghosts. It’s such a fascinating example of the natural human tendency to fear the unknown. Anytime a transition happens in our lives, we can get scared, because we don’t quite know how things are going to pan out.
And the biggest unknown for all of us is the moment when our physical lives end. We just can’t really see what happens after that. So it is not surprising that people approached this great unknown with fear, imagining angry ghosts wandering around waiting to cause mayhem. This is an example of what is often called “negativity bias.”
As humans, we tend to:
BUT: that is not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus does not lead to fear and suspicion, but rather to hope and rebirth. Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about what happens after we die: John 14:
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
1 Corinthians 15:
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[h]
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 4.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[b] Since we have that same spirit of[c] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
This is why, perhaps, when the ancient Christians encountered these traditions that betrayed a fear of death, they sought to redeem the day; to give it new, life-giving meaning; a day not to fear death, but to celebrate life! To celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us into their eternal glory with God. To remind us of the hope we have in Christ that our ultimate destination is home.
In the early years when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, so many martyrs died for their faith, that the Church set aside special days to honor them. Over time, however, they began to realize that there weren’t enough days to honor them all; so one day was set aside; All Saints’ Day; to honor the martyrs of the church. People prepared for their celebration with a night of vigil on Hallows' Eve -- Halloween (possibly because of the strong holdover influence of the Celtic Samhain festival which many Christians in Ireland, Britain Scotland and Wales had continued to observe).
Later on, another day was added: All Souls Day on November 2nd, to honor all believers who had died. Next Sunday, we are going to take some time to honor and remember those among us who have gone on to glory; our church has said goodbye to several saints this past year; even in the past weeks. It is right and good that we take time, on the first Sunday or November, to remember their testimony, to celebrate their legacy of faith, and to acknowledge our grief in missing them.
You know, When most people hear the word “saint” they think of people like this: (pictures of famous saints, ancient and modern); people like Mary the mother of Jesus, or the Apostle Paul; or people from our more recent memory like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa.
But you know what scripture tells us? We are saints. All of us who follow Jesus. We are all part of what has been called the “communion of saints”. This is what the author of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 12:1-3; we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”--a vast, numberless crowd of people, those living and those already with God in heaven, who surround us; who inspire us; who spur us on (a great equestrian term) to keep on going; to keep on being faithful to the journey God has set before us...as Christ was faithful to his journey to the cross and through death into resurrection.
This text comes near the end of the letter to the Hebrews; throughout the book, the author spells out in ways that Jewish hearers would understand how Jesus has made it possible for us to be reconciled with God. Jesus, is the great intermediary; who sacrificed himself so that we could be joined forever with God in an eternal life of love, service and worship that begins here and finds its fulfillment with God. So it makes sense that the author would end this message of hope and reconciliation with a beautiful picture of our eternal community--that began so long ago and stretches far into the future; a family of which we are a part, and to which we add our own unique lives from the moment we are welcomed in by God’s grace.
It has been a hard year and a half, as our world has been beset by a global pandemic. It is not the first time such a tragedy has befallen us, but each time it seems we are confronted anew by the frailty of our lives; the limits of our earthly bodies. But I want to challenge us today; instead of letting this awareness make us fearful, let us celebrate life! Let us rejoice in the hope we have that this is not all there is. Yes, we will get dressed up in our costumes and wander around town looking for candy, maybe celebrate with our friends and loved ones; but this is an opportunity to be reminded that this world is not all there is. Instead of letting this knowledge make us afraid, let it make us hopeful--joyful, even!
So I want to encourage you today; whatever you are doing--do it with joy, and with hope! Be a blessing to one another! Celebrate life on this day. In Jesus’ name.