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Hallowe'en and hallowed saints

By Lander Bethel
Special to the Herald Democrat
Lander Bethel

A couple of important days are coming soon.  The first is Halloween.  We might not think of it as a religious holiday, but its roots are deep within Christendom.  Hallowe’en, when our kids dress up like ghosts, skeletons, or other scary characters, comes from the conjunction of the words All Hallows’ Eve, or Hallowed Evening.  It’s the evening when we begin remembering the scary things about death on October 31.  But it’s in preparation for All Saints’ Day, when the costumes have been put away and we give thanks for all the people who have been hallowed or holy to us who have died in the past year.

It’s a day to remember and express gratitude for the people who are heroic figures for us, the people who have run the race and kept the faith.

The passage from the gospels that is most often associated with All Saints’ Day is the Beatitudes.  We find them in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel where they serve as the introductory words to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Jesus pronounces blessings on the very people who don’t seem to be blessed at all.  The people who were likely gathered there on the side of the mountain listening to him were pretty likely poor – spiritually and financially.  They were not the powerful.  They were probably hungry and thirsty for the righteousness that would bring justice to them, as well as being hungry and thirsty for real food and something to drink.

For the people gathered there it may have been astonishing to hear that they would be called blessed.  The ones who were blessed, or thought to be, were the wealthy and well connected, the powerful and the privileged.  Especially in a world where the assumption was that wealth and power were signs of God’s favor and blessing, to be poor or to feel broken, to be locked out of the power structure, to feel deep longing for things to be made right, but to have no means to make them so would be to understand yourself as having God’s blessings withheld from you.

Here is Jesus, who some were beginning to think might be the messiah, telling them the way the world is ordered, with the powerful on top and the poor and weak on the bottom, was upside down from God’s order of things in heaven.  To top it off, he even implied God’s order of things in heaven was how things were supposed to be ordered here.  The poor, the spiritually broken, the weak, the mournful, were all to receive blessings.  It was probably confusing to hear at the same time that it was surprising and encouraging.

Jesus was recognizing that the world they lived in was unjust.  And he announced a new order of things that put the ethical mindset right.  We may think might makes right, anything goes if you’re rich and powerful, or the privileged make their own rules.  But Jesus offers a vision of hope that gives us promise for a better future.  It begins with those blessings here and now.

When we think back and remember the people who have been blessings to us many of them may be the people who followed Jesus’ ethical guidelines that recognized the ones who are actually blessed, that turned our view of the world in such a way that we could see the values of the kingdom of heaven, and motivated us to live those ethical guidelines here and now. 

There’s the retired school teacher who taught his sons about doing the right thing, who praised them in such a way that they never wanted to disappoint him.  He had a righteous dignity that made him so admirable.  There’s a daughter who loved life, longed to care for her parents in their old age, who gave from her heart to almost anyone who asked something of her.  She was the center of joy for her family, and kept giving even as a tumor robbed her of her ability to think clearly before it ended her life.  There’s a crusty old lawyer who put together a few sacks every week that contained a package of crackers, peanut butter, and a bottle of water to hand out to homeless people who began showing up on street corners again.  There’s a grandmother who protected her children and grandchildren from the blows of an abusive man.  And there’s a saintly old member of the clergy who had such a way pointing people in a different direction that he guided more than a few people toward making peace in relationships that might have otherwise been broken.  

They are people many wouldn’t notice.  No awards might have come their way, apart from a dusty plaque on a wall or a yellowed drawing from a child, now tucked away between the pages of a long-neglected book.  But Jesus would gaze deeply into their eyes and pronounce them blessed, for blessings came through them.  They are some of the people who have shown us how to live our lives.  We may now come together to offer our gratitude to God for them.  And in our thanks, we may call them hallowed.

Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.