All Hallows Day

Greet every saint in Christ. (Philippians 4:21a)

All Hallows Eve and All Hallows Day, perhaps better known as Halloween and the next day, focus on death. What we know of death is that our loved ones were one day present and the next no longer. We know we can no longer talk to them, no matter how cloven our hearts may be. We know where we might visit their bodies. And we know we miss them. Death hurts us.

We can understand the desire to retain some connection, ethereal though it may be, with our deceased loved ones. For centuries, November 1st has stood as a festival day in the church to give thanks for the faithful departed – those with faith in Christ who have died – to mark their lives and remember their witness for Christ. Early Celts appeased wandering spirits with treats. Latin Americans welcome dead children back into their homes for a night. Still others don masks to remain unrecognized by the terrorizing ghosts roving the glades. Death we strive to mellow, perhaps conquer.

Facing death, we see Jesus standing next to a young man’s funeral bier, beside a young girl’s deathbed, and outside a dear friend’s sealed up tomb. Our hearts ache in empathetic pangs when we hear of Jesus weeping and grieving deeply the loss of a loved one. We can commiserate with Jesus as He stops the funeral procession of the dead lad, grasps the lifeless hand of a little girl, and shouts to the dead ears of a dear friend. We get it. Perhaps we’ve been there ourselves. Our many and varied Halloween and All Saints Day festivities expose our deep desire to connect with the dead. It would seem we understand Jesus perfectly here.

But do we really?

We merely mask death’s dreadful effects with fragrant flowers, a good embalmer, a few pat words, and a celebration of life. But such do nothing to combat the sharp reality of death in a casket. We cannot stand up to death.

But Jesus can! Enmeshed in sickening sadness, Jesus stood up to death and backed it down. Touching bier, He restored a son to a grief-stricken mother. Whispering a happy command, Jesus returned a daughter to her dumbfounded parents. With a great shout He breathed life into dead Lazarus.

Jesus Himself had a brush with death. It seemed that which is inevitable for all even stamped out the Son of the Living God. Quite right . . . for a few short days. Jesus took back His life. Nowhere will you find the buried bones of this Man because He lives! Jesus shattered the power of death. Death’s now rheumatic grip is slackened. No longer need we keep vigil for a lost spirit or ward off the wandering ghosts of the past. We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and trust His resurrection is the certainty of life restored, knowing that to all those we’ve said ‘goodbye’, we will one day soon again say ‘hello’. Look nowhere else for hope this All Hallows Day!

Lord of Heaven and Earth, fight off our enemies, especially death. Keep our trust in You. Give us a blessed end and welcome us into your kingdom. Amen.

 

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When Babies Cry In Church

Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:14)

On Sunday, I was offering the prayers of the church on behalf of the congregation. Sometimes it’s pretty quiet during that time as those in attendance are listening carefully and adding their ascent to each prayer. This past Sunday, it was not quiet. In my left ear there was a baby crying. In my right ear there was a baby crying. From somewhere behind me there were two or three other young children crying. To the cacophony of noise was my voice, crying out the pleas and petitions of our congregation to our gracious and merciful Lord. It was beautiful!

I love the sound of little voices in church. Small people who come because their parents know and place a premium on the value of what Jesus offers us – ALL OF US – in that place. Small children rattling papers and ruffling hymnal pages while trying to do what mom and dad and grandma and grandpa are doing. Faithful youngsters who bravely discuss the faith with pastor during our children’s messages. Confident little Christians who may not get all the words right, but put their heart into praying the Lord’s Prayer together with the congregation.

I even love it when the children get bored. Tired of what has to seem to them the droning on of a long-winded preacher. Who plop down in frustration when they just can’t take it anymore. I love it because they’re there. They’re right where Jesus would have them be. Climbing up on His holy lap and listening as well as a child can. I love the sounds of children in church, not because they’re the future church (although they are that), but because they are the present church joining together as best they can with the rest of the church. As loud as it can sometimes get, I absolutely love the cries and shouts and screams and even the occasional tantrum because in a real way, that’s exactly what we all have to offer our Lord. Our tears, our shouts of “unfair”, our fears, and even an occasional tantrum. Jesus never kicked a child out of His presence, but instead lauded them as the example of greatness.

Our children come, just as we adults do, into the presence of Jesus. We have nothing to offer Him. We simply have the sins we’ve committed, the hurts we harbor, the anger we’ve buried, the sadness we’ve hidden, and little more. As a baby is dependent on her mom and dad to take care of her and teach her, so we depend on our Father to hear and love us.

So I say let the little children come . . . and let them cry! Let them raise their voices! Little loved voices from little loved people. Sinners, like you and me; forgiven by Jesus, like you and me! Let us in fact join our voices with the cries of the babies in church as we cry out for mercy and forgiveness from our Lord for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Merciful Father, hear the cries of all your children. Thank you for hearing us and welcoming us into your presence through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.