MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day
Hallowe’en is coming this weekend. Lots of folks have been putting out pumpkins, decorating their front doors, or placing wispy old sheets or newly bought figures of ghosts in preparation for the night of fun and fright. While we were out for a walk our dog alerted us to just how intimidating and worrisome these figures could be as she barked out an alarm when she first noticed them.
Hallowe’en, as you may know, is the conjunction of some old words that may be a little dustier than the boxes you had your decorations stored away in. It comes from our words All Hallows’ Eve, which is the evening before All Saints’ Day. For something or someone to be hallowed is to mark it as holy, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be thy name.” In that line of the prayer it is to say that God’s name is holy. All Hallows’ Eve is the evening when we begin remembering all the people who, through their deaths, have become more holy to us. Part of that hallowed eve is to confront some of our own fears about death, to ponder what it means, and to explore what may happen to us and to the people we love after death.
There can be some scary things about death. Do we become disembodied figures that may haunt the people who have wronged us? Do we appear as a presence that may be protective or helpful to the people we care about? Or are there greater and more promising things that happen? All Hallows’ Eve is a way of testing out those questions and wondering in a fun and public way what all this means.
The next morning, All Saints’ Day, we begin remembering and giving thanks for the lives of the people who have gone before us. The nameless ghosts from the night before aren’t a threat anymore. Those hallowed ones have names as we honor them and give thanks to God for them. It may be a tradition to name those who have died in the past year, but we may also name our ancestors who have gone before us and have become important figures for us.
One of the people I think of is the character Ruth, who is honored with a book in the Bible, one of the few women to be recognized by name, and with her own story. It begins with the woman who would become her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her husband Elimelech. A famine had struck Bethlehem (which means House of Bread), where they lived. Thinking they and their two sons might starve to death, they left for Moab, not just a foreign country, but the land of their enemies. Sometimes people will take great risks to get away from starving to death or to try to save their families.
Their sons married Moabite women – daughters of their enemies. It looked like they would stay there for generations. But Naomi’s husband got sick and died, then each of their sons got sick and died. Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to their families where there was some possibility of marrying again. The daughters-in-law said no. But after Ruth insisted again that she would not leave Naomi, she relented.
Ruth helped sweet, old Naomi make her way back to Bethlehem. She married a good Jewish farmer. Ruth, who converted to Judaism, began to show her new neighbors and family members how to be a better Jew. Ruth and her new husband, Boaz, had children. One of her children’s children became Jesse, the father of David, the greatest king of Israel. Ruth and her great grandson David, are recorded in Matthew in the genealogy of Jesus.
All Hallows’ Eve may be a good time to remember there are skeletons in our closets that we don’t necessarily need to be afraid of. As we take a little longer to look more deeply the shadows that lengthened as the evening came, will begin to recede as they give way to the morning light of All Saints’ Day. That’s the day when after having dusted off the family genealogy, we may give thanks for the good things the people who have gone before us have given us as our heritage.
As eventide comes on All Hallows’ Eve, have fun with the shaky skeletons and haunting ghosts, then offer your own thanks as morningtide comes for All our Saints who from their labors rest.
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.