This week is just full of special days. Halloween is Wednesday and it is celebrated more fully here in central Texas than it was in East Texas. In fact, Halloween is discouraged in East Texas by those who see it as some manifestation of evil in the world. Many in that part of the state refer to it as "the devil's birthday" and they want children to ignore it or they have alternative events such as Fall Festivals at which children may dress up as a disciple or a religious figure but no witches or skeletons are allowed.
When I go out for my daily walk around our little central Texas town, I see many houses with impromptu graveyards, ghosts hanging from trees, skeletons wafting the breeze, and bats flying here and there. On Halloween night itself, parents escort their children around town to gather candy from their neighbors and, as far as I know, there has not been one incident to mar the spooky celebration since I have lived here. There is a curfew of 10 pm for Halloween night since it falls on a school night but that is mainly to keep any mischief makers in line rather than curb the enjoyment of any child looking for candy. Even in a town that has a liquor store and a bar, things are pretty quiet on most nights and Halloween is no exception.
Then, the next day is All Saints Day. Halloween is actually a word that incorporates the words "hallowed" and "evening"--e'en being short for evening. It began as an evening that attached to All Saints Day and it was believed in the ancient world that the souls of those who had died during the past year would be swept up into heaven (or some other place) on that evening as they were walking the earth in preparation for this event up until it happened. So, the "spirits" were especially busy on Halloween taking off for their eternal destination. All Saints Day was a day that people thought about those persons who had taken their journey the night before. A church service was usually held during which the congregation gave thanks for the lives of those whose spirits made the connection the night before. The two days fit together well because they both made comment on the same life or after life event.
Some churches have services on All Saints Day. Our local Catholic church will have one and Episcopalian Churches have them also. Our church has its celebration that coincides with All Saints Day on the Sunday after All Saints Day. Since our church as German roots we also call it "Totenfest" which means "Festival of the Dead". This church has celebrated it using the German word since its beginnings and we refer to the special day with both words. The customs are the same for both celebrations on Sunday--we read the names of the members who died during the past year, we light a candle in their memory, and ring a bell. We also name non-members who died during the past year and we ring one last bell after they have all been named.
The word "Saint" has a meaning to some people that we do not attach to it. Some think that a person who is a "saint" is someone who was perfect. That is not true at all for our brand of saints. Saints are people who tried to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ throughout their lives. They made mistakes but they asked for forgiveness and made the resolve to try not to make the same mistakes again. We call them "Saints" in the same way that Paul and others in the New Testament referred to the people who made up the churches in the Mediterranean during the beginnings of the Early Church. Saints were people who were Christians and who were attempting to live as if they were. They had been baptized and had made vows to try to live lives that would be good lives, treating others as they would like to be treated.
So, on this All Saints Sunday/Totenfest in our church we will remember five of our members who have died since last year at this time. All of them were people that everyone here knew. There are four women and one man. Most of them had lived in this area all their lives. They were known for foods they baked and music they made, accordion music (polka music). They lived among us and we knew their names and shared meals with them around tables on many special and not so special days. They were our next door neighbors. They were saints. They belonged to us and we loved them.
So, we nominate them for Sainthood, not because of their perfect lives (because they did not live lives that were perfect) but because of their baptism and place in the Church with all who have faithfully lived and died. We know that they reside in the place of eternal rest reserved for all the saints who went before them and for all the rest of us who will catch up with them one day in the future. As one song says, "they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too." Happy All Saints Day! May God remind you of all the blessed saints that have touched your lives over the years and may you give thanks for that blessing.