Every so often, I send off stuff that I've written, asking those in Media to publish it. My begging sometimes works and the article below was kindly printed in the October edition of Evangelicals Now
How are Christians to respond to all the spooky outfits, scary masks, witches’ hats that dominate our streets at this time of year? Should we simply retreat, batten down the hatches, avoid all shops and hope no one calls ‘trick or treating’?
Before answering that question, allow me to share with you my top tip that I think is guaranteed to ruin any good party. Imagine the scene: you’ve arrived at a party — the venue is lovely, the music is playing, the food is fantastic, conversations are flowing, everyone you want is there and at this point (early on in the party) no one has done anything silly or embarrassing. Here is how to ruin the party. Just wait until there is a bit of a pause, then raise your voice a little and say: ‘I tell you what, this seems like a good time to speak about death!’ Mentioning the dreaded d-word is one sure way to stop getting invitations to parties!
Now here is the link with that anecdote1 and the subject of Halloween. When you see the sorts of outfits that are sold in the shops and supermarkets at this time, isn’t it as if our society says: ‘Let’s have a party, a celebration, a festival, and use it to talk about death’ — isn’t that what it’s like when you come across the scary, horrible-looking, death-imitating costumes in the shop aisles? Don’t they just scream ‘death’ and remind us of this horrible enemy in our midst?
Triumph over death
Well, here is the first surprise as we consider how Christians respond to Halloween. Christians (unlike the non-believers) have a good reason to celebrate Halloween by putting on scary costumes and joking about death because unlike the world we have a King, Jesus Christ, who has conquered, triumphed and overcome death. We have a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has experienced this horrible enemy death, but who thankfully has defeated it (Hebrews 2.14-15). As Paul provocatively asks in 1 Corinthians 15.55: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ His answer in verse 57 is: ‘Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Those who are united to this Jesus Christ have every reason not to fear death. Christians can look death in the eye and say: ‘Horrible though you are, O death, one day... one day we will have the last laugh on you’. We Christians can mock death because even though we know that it is horrible and painful and sad, yet we can still laugh at it because we have a Saviour who has completely triumphed and defeated death. Christians need not therefore fear these scary costumes that appear at this time of year, and in fact we should be free to mock death by wearing these ghoulish outfits to mock this defeated enemy — death.
Our sorrows will turn to joy
If you’ve seen the film Crocodile Dundee, you’ll know that there’s a scene where the main character, Dundee, is walking home late one evening when he gets accosted by three kids wanting to mug him. The lead gang member pulls out a penknife and shouts, ‘Give us your wallet’, and Dundee’s girlfriend in a bit of panic, urges him to hand it over. Dundee retorts by asking, ‘Why?’ to which she replies, ‘Because they’ve got a knife’. Dundee’s comical response is to say, ‘That’s not a knife... here’s a knife’, as he draws out a machete! And it’s a little like that with the victory accomplished by our risen, reigning Lord. You can imagine him looking at all the scary outfits which people don at this time of year and saying: ‘You think that is scary? Wait until you see the fierce dragon that I had to fight. He is horrible and cruel and everyone whom he attacks loses. Everyone that is, except Me’.
Halloween then can and should be for the Christian a time to laugh. Not a fake, shallow, pretend laughter, but the kind of laughter which is filled with a certain hope that even though the present may be painful, even though the present may be full of tears and sadness, yet in Christ we are confident that our sorrows will be turned to joy.
Started by Christians!
Here is the second surprise related to Halloween. Modern-day Christians should reclaim the celebration of Halloween, given that it was our forbears who encouraged people to wear scary outfits as a parody of death.
Halloween was originally known as All Hallows Eve. It is the day before All Hallows or All Saints Day, when the church remembers those who have died in the faith and gives thanks for their faithful witness. All Hallows Eve therefore was (and is) an occasion to tease death by reminding ourselves of the wonderful hope of the final resurrection as we give thanks for those who’ve fallen asleep in Christ.
The medieval church thus encouraged Christians to wear frightening and death-imitating costumes not because they were morbid or because they didn’t have access to a medieval Gap or Calvin Klein, but rather because they were confident that death had been defeated. Christians therefore wore horrible outfits not because of a lack of fashion sense, but to satirise death and say to it, ‘You’re a loser!’ or, more positively, ‘We will win!’
This, by the way, is the reason that many old churches and some grand buildings have gargoyles. Have you ever wondered why someone would build a beautiful church with intricately designed mosaics, pretty stained glass windows, ornate looking furniture and then include unappealing and often scary-looking gargoyles? Well, the reason was simply to say to the congregation (and to the world) that, though death may still be present among us (which is what these gargoyles pictured), yet in Christ we shall overcome. In other words, gargoyles were a visual way of saying that the medieval Christians were not afraid of death.
It is reported that Woody Allen when once asked about death responded: ‘I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens’. How different for the Christian! This Halloween then, let us not fear... let us not fear the frightening costumes, let us not fear the knock on the door, let us not fear the future, and crucially let us not fear death. And why not think of a tangible way (including perhaps wearing a scary costume?) to teach and share with your family and friends that, in Christ, death is not the end!
Kiprotich Chelashaw is a curate in Audley & Alsagers Bank, Staffordshire.
1. Taken from Lee McMunn’s Identity course, (Session 4. ‘The God who comforts us’).