“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…” (1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV, emphasis added).
As I am writing this, Halloween is ending. Children on Long Island have finished trick-or-treating, and most are no longer dressed like superheroes, cartoon characters, or any of the other alter egos they have adopted for the day. Now is the time to start eating all of that candy!
Like those who celebrate the day, Halloween wears a mask that clothes it in mystery. Some people choose to emphasize the “dark side” of Halloween. They talk about how October 31 was originally set apart to worship the Celtic god of death, Samhain. How evil or satanic their rituals were is a matter of debate; some authors will claim that our Halloween traditions are sanitized versions of abominable activities such as human sacrifice, while others claim that we know almost nothing about Celtic religious rituals.
Regardless of how the ancient Celts worshipped Samhain, the church adopted November 1 as All Saints’ Day, and thus October 31 became All Saints’ Evening. In older dialects of English, these would be “All Hallows’ Day” and “All Hallows’ Evening” (abbreviated as Halloween), respectively. Thus, while some seek to draw attention to the devil, the church traditionally focuses this day on those who lived and died by faith in Jesus (and, through them, to Christ Himself). While All Saints’ Day primarily honors heroes of the church, November 2 commemorates all who have died in faith and joined “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1); that day is known as All Souls’ Day (or, according to the Book of Common Prayer, the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed).
So, why would we honor saints, or give them any thought? What is a saint? In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth that they are “called to be saints.” They did not live up to the standard many of us associate with sainthood. First Corinthians is filled with reprimands for their immorality, divisiveness, pride, etc. They were far from perfect. Yet, Paul calls them saints.
A “saint” is simply “one who is holy,” yet we tend to be confused about that term as well. A holy person is not perfect. Holiness, in both biblical Greek (hagios) and Hebrew (kadosh), implies that something or someone has been set apart for sacred use. For example, if we say that a church building is holy, we are not saying anything about the quality of its architecture or that it was built out of magic bricks; we are saying that the building has been set apart as a place to worship God. You don’t play volleyball on the altar! Likewise, if your body and mind have been set apart for God’s glory, you realize that these parts of your personality should honor Him.
A Christian is holy not because he or she is perfect, but because he or she has been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to Him. He has claimed us as His own. He has set us apart to live for Him. While perfection may not be realistic for us in this life, many of us are living below our spiritual privileges because we do not act like those who belong to Jesus.
As we take off the disguises of Halloween, let us remind ourselves on All Saints’ Day that we are called to clothe ourselves in the Christ, to mark ourselves as those who have been set apart for Him. “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14, NIV). When we think of the great saints of church history (such as Saint Patrick, Saint Francis of Assisi, etc.), let us remember our place in the body of Christ. We should not merely honor and commemorate the great saints of church history; we are challenged to imitate them, because we also are called to be saints.
This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.