Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
This is an odd time of year liturgically and culturally. We have created an odd and fantastic cultural holiday called Halloween, which finds its roots in All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day. It cannot be denied that both Halloween and All Saints Day have gone through superstitious and irrational evolutions throughout the ages. But they both bring us back to an eternal and nagging decision: do we choose good or evil?
This may almost sound absurd to modern ears, but it has been a religious and philosophical dilemma for millennia. Human beings are “double-minded.” Their articulated values – what they say is most important – does not always (often?) align with their lived values – what they give most of their time, energy, and attention to.
I hear some people comment that Christians should not “celebrate” Halloween. This is disturbing on two accounts. As it has evolved through the centuries, it is not a “celebration” so much as a public “mockery” of evil. Laughing at the devil is the surest way to force the devil to flee. The devil, and Satanic forces (history tells us), is only as strong and powerful as the person allows it to be. A Christian has nothing to fear from the devil because the devil has absolutely no power over God. For many centuries, fear of the devil was viewed as a measure of faithlessness: the true faithful had no fear of Satan, because Satan has no power over Christians.
For ourselves today, I would wish a recovery and restoration of a celebration of All Saints. The mockery of evil that characterized All Hallows Eve “cleaned house” for the spirits and essences of the holy and devout who have gone before. We honor and praise the men and women who have offered their lives to inspire and to elevate others. What a glorious party could we throw if we committed ourselves to looking for the good in all those who laid the foundation for our faith. We should declare a festival day following Halloween where we strip away all the masks and costumes to be fully present to the true “saints” of our churches. How wonderful to celebrate the ancestors who made life possible today!
This probably won’t happen (unless we give away a lot of free candy) but it is a nice vision and dream. We often give more time and attention to the things we fear than to the things we truly believe and revere. We worry about ghosts, instead of celebrating Spirit. We look for demons when we are constantly surrounded by saints. We are anxious about evil instead of remembering we are redeemed by an irresistible and undeniable good.
My friends, it is not a terrible thing to participate in Halloween activities, as long as we don’t give it power. For Halloween is not the end of the story. Beyond death, beyond decay, beyond ghouls and witches and monsters and boogie men, beyond even evil – there is God. We have nothing to fear, ever. God is with us. God goes before us. God follows after us. And God has been present in the saints of our faith and our church from the very beginning and for all time. Celebrate with me all the men and women who in their living and their leading have shined Christ’s light throughout the world. In all ways, at all times, in all places, my beloved Christian siblings, choose the good!
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).