As you read this, our children and young people will be settled back into education and the ordinary time of life will have resumed. But breaking into that will be two contrasting festivals this month: Halloween, immediately followed by All Saints Day.
At Halloween, the emphasis is on death and fear, subverting the conventions of orderly life and human relating. It is marketed, and at its best can be, a time of community and family fun, dressing up in costumes, collecting sweet treats from neighbours, being out in the dark within a safe circle of friends and family. But at its heart is fear and terror of the unknown, of witches and ghosts, a supernatural connection with darkness.
To be afraid is to display a lack of trust in God and to believe that somehow He is not going to get things right. There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. One can be translated as ”awe”: reverential respect and wonder. The other is the sense we’re most familiar with. While a spirit of awe is of God a spirit of fear is not. God does not teach us to be afraid.
All Saints’ Day celebrates those who have lived out the opposite of fear: like them we are to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who mistreat us, love others as we love ourselves. The Saints show us an alternative, radical reality in which we too can dare to trust God’s promise that we can transform the society in which we live by the way we live.
The Bible tells us Heaven is like being at a wonderful feast where everyone is having a good time. It is a place where there is no crying or pain or mourning. Heaven is a place where God’s power and love have the last word over all the unhappy things we have to face in this life, as well as being a place where our sins and weaknesses are banished forever.
We get to Heaven by God’s grace but the message of the Gospel is not only about salvation through grace but also a call to be the best we can be, to use our lives here on earth by loving God and others as best we can: a challenge to walk the walk and not just talk the talk and to build Heaven right here. God calls fallible people, you and me, to follow him and Jesus’ teaching is not about keeping people out of heaven, it is about including them, and there is hope and promise for all of us, despite our personal weaknesses and flaws and the number of times we mess up.
Saints are those who have transformed the world around them through their faith by actively and intentionally living out the teaching and good news of Jesus in the world in which they lived. Think about our villages of Charing, Charing Heath, Egerton, Hothfield, Little Chart, Pluckley and Westwell, the people who faithfully do good for others quietly and without the desire to be praised, the people without whom communities would fall apart. They are saints.
So as we journey through October let us be assured that God loves us as we are, along with our desire to become the best we can be. Let’s see beyond people’s imperfections, differences and the things that wind us up and look for the things in them that show us God in them and be humble enough to aspire to what they have. God promises us that He will welcome us to rejoice with each other and with the Saints and tells us that our immediate task is to build this heaven through our lives here and now.