Some 41 million children from 5 to 14 years old will don costumes, knock on doors, hold out bags or jack-o-lantern buckets, waiting to have them filled with candy.
Tonight is Halloween.
U.S. Baptists are all too familiar with Halloween and too unfamiliar with “All Saints’ Day” on Nov. 1.
So, what is this lesser-known holiday about and who are the “saints” being celebrated?
Halloween began as a vigil (All Hallow’s Eve) of prayer and fasting in preparation for All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallow’s Day, on which a communal meal was held to remember the martyrs (witnesses) who died for their faith.
This was later expanded to include all Christians who had died with All Soul’s Day on Nov. 2.
While Roman Catholicism has a process for selecting “saints,” the recognition of specific saints was discarded by the Christian traditions emerging from the Protestant Reformation in favor of the broader inclusion of all believers in a “communion of saints.”
Baptists seem more comfortable with the term “heroes of the faith” instead of “saints.”
Consequently, they have rarely celebrated All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) or All Saints’ Day Sunday (the first Sunday in November). That’s understandable, but I believe it worthwhile to reinsert this day into the worship calendar.
Because of Protestants’ aversion to calling people “saints,” defining the term “saint” is especially important.
Ministers should emphasize that All Saints’ Day is not a declaration that the deceased were perfect people or always positive role models.
The “saints” remembered on this day are professed followers of Christ who are part of the “communion of saints,” which the Apostles’ Creed uses to refer to all Christians.
To make this clear, the minister can remind the congregation of the biblical figures who were not perfect, but from whose life and legacy we learn and grow as disciples.
They can also call attention to colloquial usage of the term in hymns, such as “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Still, you may wonder why this day matters. I offer three reasons.
1. On All Saints’ Day Sunday, congregations can remember and recognize all of its members who have passed away during the previous year.
Deaths often come unexpectedly, and sometimes congregation members cannot attend funerals or memorial services of long-time friends and church members. Having a set day each year on which churches around the world (in their own unique ways) collectively grieve losses and celebrate lives well lived is a unifying, constructive practice.
2. On All Saints’ Day Sunday, we remember that “saints” or “heroes of the faith” – in the Bible, within local churches and throughout Christian history – while imperfect, are people whose lives have shaped ours.
We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and would not be where we are today without the legacy of our ancestors. Yes, mistakes were made and injustices done, but many advances and justice were also enacted.
All Saints’ Day is an opportunity to demonstrate humility by recognizing we might have made the same mistakes had we lived in earlier eras, and to demonstrate wisdom by learning from shortcomings while emulating successes.
3. Observing this day provides ministers the opportunity to teach about significant historical figures within Baptist life and throughout the larger Christian tradition.
All Saints’ Day is a day for thanksgiving and education, for celebrating our calling and reorienting our lives to the way of Jesus by learning from Christians who have lived before us. This is a prudent practice any time of the year, and the first Sunday of November offers a ready-made date for so doing.
Candy and costumes are a fun activity for children, and many churches provide a safe place for this to happen.
But churches should also use this time of year to remember, celebrate and learn from the positive and negative examples of the “communion of saints” of which we are all a part.
Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com.