"Like the proud mother who is thrilled to receive a wilted bouquet of dandelions from her child, so God celebrates our feeble expressions of gratitude." ~ Richard Foster~
My question is: Do we make the effort to celebrate our gratitude to God at all? Is it part of our spiritual disciplines?
Time was when Christians understood that we need special seasons of gratitute to help us to mark and remember the mighty works God has done for us. Not only was it part of a personal spiritual discipline, but it was part of a communal discipline of gratitude and cultural dominion.
The Church calendar is an amazing combination of marking God's wonderful works in the seasons when they probably happened, and of replacing pagan holy days with the memorials of the True God's interventions in time and space. The Christian holy days give those pagan time marks the meanings they ought to bear.
Two of the most famous replacements are just around the corner: Halloween and Christmas.
For many pagan European cultures, October 31 or thereabouts represented a time when the realms of the living and the dead were open to each other, because it is the night when the day and the night are of equal length, but the night is lengthening. It has often been a night of real fear - and not merely a fear of roaming mischievous teenagers. Even today, Wicca adherents are warned not to despair on this night when they think of loved ones who have died.
The Christian Church replaced this Day of the Dead with All Saints' Day. On this day, Christians remember and honor the heroes of the Faith - the ones who bore many sorrows, who inspire and encourage us in our own sorrows, who resisted evil at their own peril, who were faithful unto death. There is not even the slightest danger of despair in this memorial, for these wonderful role models were sustained by the same God who upholds us.
We remember that even though it looks as though the Darkness will win, we have a mighty God who will light our way throught the darkest night, the longest winter of the soul. And we remember that our God has triumphed over the old gods and powers of darkness which terrified our forefathers.
The practice of sending children out to frolic dressed as those defeated powers is a mockery of those powers. It is God's people dancing on the graves of defeated and discredited gods. We have nothing to fear from those old powers. It is like Miriam and the women of Israel dancing on the heaving shores of the Red Sea, singing of the drowning of Pharaoh's armies as bits of the chariot harnesses washed up at their feet. Trick-or-treating may be viewed as a sort of 'plundering the pagans'.
Trick-or-treating may not be the best way, in our evil day, to celebrate this holy day. But the holiday will not have any beneficial effect unless we express it, unless we tell these tales to our children and teach them what this day means to those who love the LORD.
Many Christians remember the heroes of the Faith particularly in the historic movement to preserve a commitment to the truth of God's Word: the Reformation. October 31 is the day when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, sparking the Reformation.
We celebrate Reformation Day by
- dressing as heroes of the Faith from every era and telling their stories in a Parade of Saints,
- letting the little ones play 'Nail the Theses' on the door,
- reflecting on our aspirations as families and creating Coats of Arms to express them,
- exploring the wonders of moveable type,
- feasting a la 16th century,
- treasure-hunting for 'contraband Bibles' while the Pope's men hunt for us,
- reinacting the trial of Luther at the Diet of Worms,
- and singing the great hymns that sustained the church through those dangerous times...
If you would like to pre-order a Reformation Day Celebration Kit with instructions, scripts, recipes, invitations, costume ideas and more, send me an email with "Reformation Day Kit" in the subject line.
Next time: Time Memorials (part 2)