Halloween: Ghosts or Saints?
It's Halloween — All Hallow's Eve — complete with ghosts, ghouls, goblins, costumes, parties, pumpkins, trick-or-treating, scary movies, even orange beer. In the church, it is the night before All Saints' Day, the day we remember the saints, past and present. Together, Halloween and All Saints' Day in the fall are similar to Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday in the spring.
Who are the saints? Where are they? What do they do? We often hear of them in sermons, liturgy, and prayers. The Apostles' Creed states our belief in the communion of saints, indicating that they are joined or united in some commonality such as their faith in the risen Christ. Our hymnal includes a famous prayer by a saint (481) and names many hymn tunes after saints (listed on page 933). As a young boy, I remember a well-meaning Sunday school teacher explaining to me that Roman Catholics pray to their saints, but we Methodists pray only to God. Realizing that the hymns and songs we sing in worship probably do more to form our faith than some of the other activities in church, let's consider what The United Methodist Hymnal (UMH) and The Faith We Sing (TFWS) have to say about saints.
Who Are the Saints?
- Saints, once sorrowful on earth, are happy in heaven. (UMH 424)
- Saints in heaven are joined with saints on earth. (UMH 709)
- Saints have a firm foundation for their faith in the Lord in Scripture. (UMH 529)
- Saints on earth have been perfected by Christ's sharing of his holy nature. (UMH 550)
- There are "faithful spirits" who move forward through the ages at God's call. (UMH 555)
- Saints, who once fought on earth, now rest from their labors. (UMH 711)
Where Are the Saints?
- Saints are in heaven and on earth. (UMH 58)
- Saints in heaven, long watching in hope and fear, suddenly saw the Lord descending. (UMH 220)
- Saints live in heaven and reign forever with the risen Christ. (UMH 322)
- Saints are united in heaven in unending joy. (UMH 680)
- Saints are in heaven where Jesus intercedes for them, pleads for sinners, and prepares our place. (UMH 325)
- Saints of God are gathered home in heaven. (UMH 525)
- Saints once trod where the church of God now treads like a mighty army. (UMH 575)
- Saints are at rest in the regions of light. (UMH 653)
- Saints are patient, brave, and love to do God's will — whether rich or poor. (UMH 712)
- Saints are in heaven praising God with the angels. (TFWS 2268)
What Do the Saints Do?
- Saints give glory, praise, and love to God. (UMH 58)
- Saints sing in glory, long for heaven, and stand before the judgment throne. (UMH 702)
- Saints worship and adore God. (UMH 64)
- Saints dwell in everlasting day. (UMH 79)
- Saints are brought to glory everlasting. (UMH 80)
- Saints adore the Holy Spirit's sacred energy and bless the Spirit's renewing power. (UMH 88)
- All triumphant saints raise the song, "Alleluia!" (UMH 90)
- Saints, with the angels and joined by us, praise the transfigured Christ. (UMH 260)
- Earthly saints are engaged in a battle for the cause of Christ in which they may die. Yet, they will see the ultimate victory from heaven and will even bring it to completion by their faith. (UMH 511)
- Saints keep watch over the world rent asunder by schisms and distressed by heresies, and cry, "How long?" (UMH 545, 546)
- Saints are to rise up and forsake lesser things and give our all in service to Christ; bring in right and end wrong; make the church great; walk in the way of Christ. (UMH 576)
- Through the praying and reforming work of saints, Christ overcomes our human corruption, conforming, obsession with trifles, and our greed and war. (UMH 590)
- Saints on earth, through the Spirit, sound the depths of God's love divine. (UMH 603)
- Saints help us remember how to praise; do God's will on earth; withdraw to pray; carry the gospel to the world; bear another's cross while shouldering their own; shame our complaining, comforts, and cares; prove that the way to Christ is in self-giving. (UMH 708)
- Saints are engaged in virtuous and godly living and unspeakable joys. (UMH 713)
- Saints will attend the final coming of Christ. (UMH 718)
- Saints will join the angels in song at Christ's final coming. (UMH 720)
- Saints will gather at the river flowing by the throne of God at the completion of creation. (UMH 723)
- Saints, through receiving God's grace, bring blessings. (TFWS 2042)
- Saints show God's love in their lives; through their love for God and their faith, spread knowledge of Jesus; lived out God's will through protest, prayer, and praise. The lives of saints, even those unacclaimed, are avenues for God's hallowing our own lives. (TFWS 2283)
- Saints were born, lived, and died.
- Saints are in heaven and on earth today.
- Saints worship, praise, and glorify God.
- Saints do a lot of singing.
- Saints were present at the first earthly coming of Jesus and will be present at the last.
- Saints once lived and still today live good lives and perform good works in service to Christ.
- Saints intercede through prayer.
- Saints do battle.
- Saints rest from their labors.
- Saints pray for, reform, and overcome human failures.
- Saints, in their living, reflect God's love and their faith, showing us how God hallows our own lives.
We're a long way from Halloween's ghosts, pumpkins, and trick-or-treating, as we should be. But we are not far away from the "communion of saints"; indeed, we can be part of that communion whether we be a doctor, a queen, a shepherdess, soldier, priest, martyr, student, store clerk, church member, sailor (UMH 712), or engage in any other human occupation or activity. As hymn 712 says, "and I mean to be one too."