Ponderings of the General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley
October 31, 2022
There is a meme making it around Facebook that reads:
Halloween – a day we get it right.
Strangers come to us,
Beautiful, ugly, odd, or scary,
And we accept them all without question,
Compliment them, treat them with kindness, and give them good things.
Why don’t we live like that?
The sentiment is written by Steve Garnass-Holmes who is, as it turns out, a retired Methodist pastor who writes a weekly on-line devotional. The fact that it has circulated so widely on my FB feed may say something about my FB friends but it may also suggest that something about the statement rings true of the beloved community. Isn’t that what the church, following Christ, seeks to do every time it opens its doors?
So Happy Halloween to all of you!
But, of course, it is also Reformation Day. Many of our churches observed Reformation Sunday yesterday. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a monk and university professor, released his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as “The 95 Thesis.” The document, intended to be used as a basis for discussion with church superiors, spoke against the practice of selling indulgences, a practice that allowed people to “buy” their salvation from local priests. The distribution of the theses marked the beginning of the Lutheran movement and the eventual spread of Protestantism around the world.
That Halloween and Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses on the Wittenberg door coincide is probably not coincidental. Luther chose this day because it was the day before “All Saints Day” and Luther knew that many influential scholars would attend services for this high holy day. He wanted to catch their attention…and he did!
Halloween started as a pagan Celtic festival known as Samhain, which celebrated the harvest and new year. After the Roman Empire conquered the Celts in the first century, festivals traditional to each culture were combined and then eventually usurped by the Roman Catholic Church, which created All Martyrs’ Day in A.D 609.
Nearly 400 years later, Pope Gregory III replaced All Martyrs’ Day with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. All Saints’ Day also was called All-Hallows — and the night before All-Hallows became All-Hallows Eve, the precursor of Halloween. So there is a reason why we sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God” while meanwhile children are scampering around the church in Halloween costumes.
Several of our churches included bagpipes for their Reformation Sunday observances. This is a nod to the Presbyterian manifestation of the reformation movement started in Scotland by John Knox. Knox studied with Calvin in Geneva for a season and learned much reformed theology from him. Then he returned to Scotland. It was thanks to Knox that the Presbyterian polity was established, though it took 120 years following his death for this to be achieved in 1689.
Ecclesia Reformata, semper reformandum secundum Verbum Dei! The church reformed and always being reformed according to the word of God.
This little romp through history points us to the question, how is the church being reformed in the present moment? God knows.
As ever in prayer,