The History Channel has an interesting essay on the background of Halloween, October 31. As is true of so many of our holidays, Halloween has gone through many different permutations and was reclaimed and reshaped by Christians.
Halloween has become a huge industry. When I was a boy, it was a sleepy little holiday and it was only because of my parent's prompting that I even went out trick or treating. (I never liked candy. My sugar and fat weakness has always been baked goods.) Today though, Americans spend more on their Halloween celebrations than on any other holiday except Christmas: $6.9-billion!
Of course, some regard this as a dire and disturbing trend. But I see nothing wrong with Halloween. Most of the tales about witches and such are nothing other than classic tales of good versus evil.
The word, Hallowe'en, of course, is a contraction for the words hallowed [or holy] evening. It gets its name because it's the eve before All Saints Day, a time historically set aside by Christians to remember believers in Jesus Christ who have died. (When the New Testament uses the term saint, it doesn't have some super-spiritual person in mind. A saint is nothing other than someone who follows Jesus Christ, a person who has, on faith, received the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life offered by Jesus.)
For a Lutheran like myself, Halloween is also Reformation Day. It was on All Saints Eve, October 31, 1517, that a young monk, priest, and scholar named Martin Luther posted points for debate (his 95 Theses) on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. (Church doors were used like our bulletin boards are today.) Luther challenged the Church to re-form itself around the simple truth that a relationship with God cannot be earned or bought or bargained for. It comes as a free gift to those with faith in the God we meet through the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
Luther's theses set off a conflict of volcanic proportions. Thank God, we live with its after-effects today.
A few key passages of Scripture to consider this Reformation Sunday:
16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' [John 3:16-17]
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ [Romans 1:16-17]
21 But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. [Romans 3:21-26]
You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. [Ephesians 2:1-10]
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. [Second Corinthians 5:16-19]
This Halloween, as you pass out the candy to the trick-or-treaters, you can also remember that God willingly gives us the greatest gift any of us could ever want: brand new life with Him forever, forgiveness of our sins, and the power to become our best selves with God living inside of us.