Forget Halloween. Forget the candy and the costumes. We’ve got a hat trick of great holidays that will get the week off to a wonderful start: Reformation Day on Monday, All Saints Day on Tuesday and All Souls Day on Wednesday. They are worth celebrating.
First up is Reformation Day. The medieval church marked October 31 as All Saints Eve or All Hallows Eve (hence Halloween). Martin Luther chose the day in 1517 to post his 95 Theses on the chapel door in Wittenberg. The 95 Theses were a long list of theological abuses and pastoral malpractice Luther saw plaguing the medieval church. So he went to the chapel and nailed his list to the door. Nothing hugely significant about the chapel door. It was the community bulletin board and his wouldn’t be the only notice, though possibly the longest, tacked on the door for all to read. The chapel door was a sort of old-fashioned You Tube. The 95 Theses went viral.
The seeds of the Protestant Reformation were sown long before October 31, 1517, but we use the date to celebrate those who were willing to give much that the church might be a more faithful servant of her Lord, a more worthy Bride for her Savior.
On Reformation Day we remember Luther for his famous “Here I stand, I can do no other” insistence that salvation is by faith alone. We Presbyterians in particular think of John Calvin’s resolute focus on the Scriptures as the only Word of the Sovereign God. We hear John Knox’s famous prayer from the nave of Saint Giles in Edinburgh, “Give me Scotland or I die,” and are reminded of a gospel that is for the whole world.
On Monday you might drink a German beer or dance a Scottish jig. Be sure to give thanks for the Reformers.
Tuesday will be All Saints Day. In Catholic tradition it was “instituted to honour all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful’s celebration of saints’ feasts during the year.” Of course, we Protestants aren’t much into the official list of saints, though we like feasts (we call them potlucks). We hear the Bible teaching that all those who confess Christ as Savior and live under his lordship are counted among the saints. What a motley crew we are.
But each of us has our own cloud of witnesses, particular people, our saints, who God has used in particular ways to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” We may recall a particular Sunday School teacher or youth group leader, a parent or a grandparent, a college roommate or a work colleague who was willing to share the life of Jesus with us.
Make Tuesday a feast day to all your saints. Order dessert or prepare your favorite dinner, but be sure to thank God for the saints God has graciously given you.
Wednesday is All Souls Day. This is one of those instances where we Protestants just don’t see things at all the same way as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters see them. So rather than praying for souls in purgatory, I’m going to celebrate All Souls Day by praying and giving thanks for all those wonderful living souls whose lives bless mine on a daily basis.
The New Testament is absolutely clear that to be human is to be a body and soul creature (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23 for instance). The Greek lexicon says the word is multi-sided. It has to do with our inner selves, our personhood and essential being. Along with heart, mind and strength, our souls were designed to love God. And our God is one who restores our souls beside the still waters so that they, too, are still.
The reality of my particular life is that most of the souls whose lives touch mine are seeking to love God. But not all. So on All Souls Day I am not only going to give thanks for the godly souls who enrich my life, I am also going to reach out to some of those whose souls do not yet love God, thanking them for their place in my life, and maybe, just maybe, I will find a quiet way to tell them about the One who loves their soul and calls it to quietness.
On Wednesday find a way to thank and reach out to the souls whose lives touch yours.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Reformers, Saints and Souls. It ought to be a good week.