Sunday, October 29, 2017

All Hallows

Charles Graves IV
Sermon October 29 2017
Church of the Advent
Deuteronomy 34:1-12


Halloween is by FAR my favorite holiday. I’m one of those people who starts working on my what to wear several months in advance, who attends a half-dozen Halloween parties in multiple different costumes. But I don’t just love Halloween for the unusual clothes, or the haunted houses or the pumpkin carving, or even the cute kids trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. I also love Halloween for an even more important reason that actually has a lot to do with why we’re here today. 

You might know that what we call “Halloween” is really “All Hallows Eve”, or “the Eve of All Hallows”. What does that really mean? Well All Hallows is really just another way of saying All Holies! You remember that every week we say “our Father who art in heaven HALLOWED be thy name” “or Holy is Your name”! All Hallows is the day of All Holies, or All Holy People – also known as All Saints!! And All Saints Day, which is actually one of the major celebration feasts of the Church every year is always on November 1st, which makes October 31 the eve or the night be fore All Saints – All Hallows!

You see what we’re really doing is celebrating the back-to-back related but actually separate feasts of All Souls and All Saints. The feast of All Souls, which is what the Church officially calls October 31st, is when we honor all the “faithfully departed” – those who were near and dear to us who have passed away, and whose presence we remember throughout our lives. We think of departed parents, grandparents, friends, loved ones, mentors, and those whom we miss every day of our lives. From there you can begin to see how the day took on this spooky element where the day becomes associated with the souls of the dead and the sometimes thin curtain that we feel between this life and the next. And then there’s the even greater feast on November 1st of All Saints, when we remember all those departed people whom the church remembers as particularly holy and the countless throngs whom the whole world remembers as models of Christian holiness for all generations. 

THAT is why I love this time of year – these dual feasts when we’re surrounded by this great cloud of witness, from our own departed family members and friends, to the great teachers, leaders and martyrs of the Church, to the Apostles, the Prophets, and even our Israelite ancestors who wandered from the land of Egypt so many years ago! This season of All Saints and All Souls is a holy occasion! Through them – through all those people who have gone before, we ourselves learn how to be followers of Christ, the beloved of God, to be the hands and feet of the Almighty in this world. For them, we pray for their eternal rest and that their memories may inspire us to do better and live better every single day. And With them we await the day when we will be united with them in Glory everlasting. 

Even our story from Deuteronomy reminds us of that today. Now for whatever reason, the story of Moses’ death is not mentioned in Exodus, so we make a big leap forward today into Deuteronomy, which retells much of the Exodus story, sometimes with an extra bit of added detail. So Deuteronomy tells us that God takes Moses to the top of Mt. Nebo, on the edge of the Jordan River so that he can see out into the land of Canaan, the promised land for which he and his people have journeyed for decades through the desert. And yet God tells Moses that he will not live to cross into that land but that those who come after him will inherit that land and that a new leader, Joshua, will lead God’s people into a new world across the Jordan. Deuteronomy even gives a nice little Eulogy for Moses: 

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Moses left a legacy for his people, and for the countless generations of us that follow him, and for the generations that follow us, even those who are not yet even born. It was this passage and on that legacy of Moses  from which Martin Luther King drew these most famous words: 

We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

We too are called to draw from the legacies of all those people who came before us, of all those women and men, those people who paved the way for us to be who we are as followers of Christ in the world. Our job as long as we are alive is to keep learning, never stop learning from those people who came before us, and to keep moving forward, building a path for those who come behind us. One of the ways we do that is through stewardship, through generosity just as previous generations were generous stewards to us, building up the church and the faith for thousands of years. 

So this Halloween, this All Hollows Eve, All Souls & All Saints, however you prefer to call them, remember the legacies of Moses and all the holy people who witnessed to God and testified to Christ in your life and throughout the generations. And endeavor with me to follow their witness, for all those who will live to remember us when we are no longer here. That’s what Halloween is really all about!

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