Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallows' Eve

Revelation 5:6-12 / Luke 6:17-23

Do you like your Halloween silly or terrifying?

Judging from the range of expressions of the holiday across the United States and in those other countries that have come to celebrate it as well, we can only safely conclude that the response is mixed. For some, the ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night are quite clearly marked out for fun and mockery. The reanimated corpses scare about as readily as Herman Munster, the vampires as successfully as Count Chocula, and apparently we like it that way. It is though this crowd wants to insist that the panoply of evil which parades from door to door or from bar to bar is best mocked, made light of, occupying a safe realm somewhere between Saturday morning cartoons on the one hand, low comedy and burlesque on the other.

For others, however, it is the fright, the terror, that ought to be front and center. On this view, if there is any fun to the night, it can only be had by there being at least some capacity to suspend one's awareness that this is all safe and in good fun. If we cannot, for a moment, worry that the horrid man with the axe who chases us out of the haunted house or through the field of corn, then why go through the charade? If the trick-or-treaters do not have at least a little anxiety that, maybe just this time, the horrid witch who answers the door will not give them candy but rather boil them in her cauldron for dinner, then something important is lost in the whole experience. As with a horror movie rated only PG-13, admitting anyone above the age of 13 years, the audience would know what cannot be shown, what level of horror cannot even be hinted at, and so is ultimately left, apart from a startle or two, altogether unsatisfied.

What this latter group knows, perhaps directly, possibly only unconsciously, is that the evils which we face on Halloween are, each in their own way, all too painfully real. We live, after all, where there are long to be healed of their diseases, where good men and women are troubled with unclean spirits. Even, indeed numerically especially, among the company of God's Church, we see those who are poor, that hunger now, that weep now, the victims daily of hatred, being separated, reproached, their very names cast out as evil, all for the sake of the Gospel. To pretend that the victory of Christ over the powers of Death, Hell, and Sin means a world or a Church untroubled, free from the ghastly and deadly tricks of the legions of the night is to fail to see at all.

All the same, while people young and old keep this day, and with good reason, with goblins and terrors, defanged or red in tooth and claw, the Church does not clothe herself with tales of terror and demonic oppression. Rather, she recalls that at Jesus' hand, those who were diseased were healed, those troubled with unlean spirits were cured. She recalls his assurance that the poor's is, and not merely will be, the kingdom of God, that those who hunger and weep now are nonetheless blessed. All of this we know because, no less now than then, virtue went out from him, and healed all. If the Church casts its eyes on creatures, it is not moldering revenants from the tomb, not specters and wraiths assaulting the living in envy of their life, but the four living creatures, and in the midst of the ancients, a Lamb standing as it were slain, having seven horns and seven eyes: which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth. The sounds she hears are not creaking doors, cackling hags, and the flapping of bats' wings, nor the odors those of apple, pumpkin, and a freshly-dug grave, but harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

It is not that the Church forgets on the Eve the reality of sin and evil and its continuing presence in our lives. Rather what she affirms with full confidence, for she has it from Jesus Christ himself, is that Death, Hell, and Sin, not only are not the final word come the Last Day when the trumpet sounds, but that they are not even the final word now. What the Gospel gives us as Good News is that, even now, even in the midst of the monstrous and the horrible, Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, is with us as Victor and King, and that from his power and virtue, we have not enough life to make it through, but the very font of Life itself.

However we keep this night, in prayerful vigil, or in vigil under the blanket in a darkened room watching scary movies, or in fact dreading the awful and real terrors of our lives, we know that Jesus Christ is Lord here and now, that we are his, and that no wound, no injury, no injustice, not even the mightiest and most terrifying works of the Devil himself can overcome the Love we know in the Lamb.

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. and hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth. ... The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction!