Plymouth United Church of Christ

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Sermon, Year B, All Hallow’s Eve, October 28, 2012
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: 1 Samuel 28:3-25, Job 4:12-21, Ezekiel 37:1-10, Revelation 12:1-9

From ghoulies and ghosties,
and long-legged beasties,
and things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us.
– from an old Scottish litany

All Saint’s day is a reminder that all have eternal life, that there is no hell, only heaven – only eternal life with God. All Hallow’s eve is the reminder that even evil and spooks and death do not have any ultimate power, and that demons and devils and evil spirits are not real. They are nothing to be feared because they exist only in our imagination. Death is real, and we all die, but we die only in body – we have eternal life.

So it all goes back to almost-ancient England, before Christianity showed up.

October 31st was the feast of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), at harvest time and marking beginning of winter. Livestock were butchered and foods were preserved for the winter.
It was also a time of year associated with death. Naturally – I mean, look out the window. It looks like death.

The Celts also believed that on the night of Sow-en the door to the realm of the dead was open, and spirits of the dead walked abroad. Bonfires warded off the darkness, and people set out food in their homes and invited in the souls of their ancestors.

So it was this mix of warding off evil spirits but also welcoming the spirits of the friendly dead.

Christianity showed up in England in the 600s, and as it did in a great many places, as it converted people it also absorbed many of their rituals and Christianized them. It was a long process, but eventually All Saints Day – the remembrance of the dead – became associated with Sow-en, which became All Hallow’s Eve. Hallowed meaning holy, sacred, or saint.

But we kept some traditions (though the history is somewhat unclear – some of these might have been invented by the Christians) – dressing up in costumes, thought to make people unrecognizable by the unfriendly spirits. And maybe the most fun part, at least for the children, “trick-or-treating”. There was a long period in which this custom didn’t happen very much, but was resurrected in America around 1900.

Way back, the concept was called “souling”. The costumes probably were thought to ward off the bad spirits. Souling was a way to attract the good ones, the family ones.

And what better way than food!

And so we have soul cakes, a kind of shortbread with currants or other fruit. [There is a tradition that a cook, annoyed by folks begging for food who didn’t need to beg, cut a hole in the middle of a soul cake dough and dropped it into hot fat, inventing the doughnut. The idea being that as the donut eater bit into the circle of dough he would remember the circle of eternity, of life and death and life.]

Children would go out and beg for soul cakes as well, singing this: [You can hear Lynn play and sing this in the audio of the sermon]

A soul cake, a soul cake,
Pray, good missus, a soul cake,
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Give us good alms and we'll be gone.

Children (and adults) should learn that death is simply a part of life and that, for Christians, the goal is to come in out of the darkness into the light where God warms us and feeds us for ever.

Hallowe’en is the Eve of All Saints’ Day, which we celebrate next Sunday. Ideally, this would be happening Wednesday night and we would do All Saints’ on Thursday, as intended, but that’s okay.

The Good News is that we can dress up and play in the world of the dark and scary knowing that as we do so we are dispelling their power over us, because Jesus has already dispelled them. We can be defiant against the horrifying unreal, the powerful Other, or whatever we might fear because we know that demons and devils, magic and occultic power, witches and undead monsters are mere fictions of our minds. Nothing can destroy our souls or separate us from God. It is a night to remember that death has lost its sting, and at the end of the party we can safely remove our masks confidant that evil cannot withstand the dawning light of Jesus’ Gospel love. So have a fun, and also a hallowed, Halloween!

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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