The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:7-10, 22)
At one time in our Christian history the Vigil of All Hallows Eve was a major observance that prepared communities of faith for the celebration of the saints (All Saints Day). It was a day of fasting in preparation for great feasting, a time of focused prayer and reflection, and time to welcome the holiness of God to dispel the dangers of evil. In a very odd and bizarre way, this laid the foundation for what we know as Halloween today. James advises the followers of Christ to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7b). Over time, resisting came to mean mocking or making fun of the devil. In some cultures and traditions, a man was selected to portray the devil for the day preceding All Saints, and the villagers would harass, taunt, chase, slap, laugh at, beat, and hurl rotten fruit and vegetables at him. Then this person was treated to a seat of honor at a feast, and often given gifts (tricks followed by treats?). In another tradition, people would wear disguises the day before All Saints to hide from the devil so that they would not join the saints prematurely. In yet one last tradition, All Hallows Eve was a day of baking and sweets-making as offerings and gifts to the saints who had passed since the last All Saints Day.
Costumes, devils, sweets, and celebrations – primitive yet formative acts resulting in Halloween celebrations in various countries and cultures. Why are these ideas and practices so compelling and long lasting? The people of God have long believed in the physical world and spiritual realms. Good and evil have not been philosophical abstractions, but real spheres of influence and existence. We sometimes need communal help to mock the devil and resist evil, holding fast to glorious light that can dispel the deepest, most frightening darkness. Even the most rational and reasonable among us may hold some unconscious superstitions and beliefs. Who among us doesn’t think twice before descending the dark cellar stairs after hearing a strange bump down below?
Perhaps we need to resurrect Vigils of All Hallows Eve, taking a focused time to reject that which is hurtful, harmful, degrading, judgmental, and destructive in our lives and our relationships to prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the significant people who have meant so much to us, and continue to influence us in positive ways, even years after they have died. A conscious ritual of rejecting the negative in order to embrace the positive has wondrous potential. In this year (2020) where the "tricks" have far outweighed the "treats," maybe it is a good idea to "laugh at the devil," and rededicate ourselves to doing all the good we can to the honor and glory of God.
Prayer: Gracious God, who goodness transcends every evil, and whose light dispels every shadow of darkness, bless us we pray. Allow this autumnal celebration day be much more than costumes and decorations and candy and mischief; let this be a day of spiritual preparation to seek only the good, and to reject the negative. Transform our hearts, our minds, and our spirits we pray. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.