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Now that there’s only a week until Halloween, I find myself reflecting again on All Saints’ Day, a church holiday I started observing only last year. I also find myself wondering why some in the Reformed tradition are apparently trying to redeem October 31st by celebrating Reformation Day instead of All Hallows Eve. The festivity looks much the same—there are costumes, treats, and games (including Pin the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Door at at least one congregation’s festivities)—but what is being celebrated is different. Perhaps we are recoiling from the ghoulishness of Halloween and are trying to redeem what many perceive as a celebration of evil. But perhaps we, in typical Protestant fashion, are recoiling unnecessarily from a Catholic holiday.

I don’t deny that for the Protestant, the nailing of the 95 Theses to the church doors is something to remember and celebrate, but isn’t it of greater significance to celebrate the souls of our brothers and sisters who have passed into victory? They have gone on ahead of us—through temptations, doubts, despair, persecution, abandonement, rejection, loss, torture, and death—and by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, the Lord Jesus’s intercession, and God the Father’s eternal proclamation, they have entered into rest, joy, sight, life, and peace. In celebrating All Saint’s Day, we thank God for the work he did in the martyrs of old and in the lives of believing parents, pastors, and friends.

Why will most Protestant churches not mention this next Sunday? Perhaps it’s because All Saint’s Day technically celebrates only the canonized saints. Here, I agree with my fellow Protestants and protest the distinction made by All Saint’s and All Souls’ Day. For me, All Saint’s is All Souls’, a day of celebrating the sactification of all believers, who are all alike saved by the grace of Christ and are therefore all alike holy (Latin:  sanctus). If we want to redeem something, perhaps we can make some modifications in just who we are celebrating on November 1st, but there is no need to turn away from something so significantly hopeful to something else.

Newsweek has an article on the resurrection written by Lisa Miller, author of Heaven:  Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife. She cites some interesting statistics:

80% of Americans believe in heaven.

70% believe that Jesus rose from the dead. (Down 10% from 2003)

26% believe that they will have bodies in heaven.

30% of respondents to a 2003 poll believed in reincarnation; 21% of them were Christian.

As N. T. Wright says in Suprised By Hope, there seems to be a lot of present confusion about what Christianity teaches on life after death. He sums up:  the New Testament and early Christians pretty unanimously attested that after death our souls are with the Lord in peace, awaiting his final return when they will be reunited with their (now glorified) bodies, which will live in the new universe.

For some reason, bodily resurrection (and according to Wright, there is no other type of resurrection) is a hard pill to swallow, as Miller’s article attests. She draws attention to how people try to get around it, by embracing a Platonic view of the soul and the body or by making the resurrection symbolic of new life. As Miller (who doesn’t believe in the resurrection herself) points out, without bodily resurrection you do not have the physical delights of heaven.

Bodily resurrection is laughed at by many, who see it for what it is–a natural impossibility. But as Jesus said to the Sadducees, “You do not know…the power of God.”

 

As Easter week begins, I am reminded of the king who entered Jerusalem two millenia ago, riding peacefully and meekly on a donkey’s colt. The people of Jerusalem greeted him ecstatically, no doubt seeing the arrival of the Messiah who would vanquish the Romans and make Israel a superpower. He, however, greeted them with tears, seeing their rejection of his true mission, which “would bring you peace” (Luke 19:42), and the result of their foolhardy vision of overthowing Rome–destruction in A.D. 70.

“Are you the king of the Jews,” Pilot asked him.

Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36, NIV).

I have just finished reading N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope, a wonderful book in which he talks about the surprise of Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for our hope. The resurrection of the Lord is the firstfruits of the coming harvest, the resurrection of all believers. It is that latter resurrection which all creation longs for.

21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

The creation itself will be made new, just like our bodies. It is a new heaven and a new earth that Jesus came to initiate. This is the kingdom of God which he brought by his death, burial, and resurrection. It goes much deeper than earthly dreams of power, glory, and fortune. God’s kingdom is the renewal of everything, from the inside and out, starting with Jesus’ resurrection. It begins in us with the new life of the Spirit, and it continues in our own holiness and our labors in the present world to announce that the kingdom has come. As N. T. Wright stresses, what we do in this world–acts of justice, mercy, and beauty–are not in vain. God will use them when his kingdom comes in full, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, NIV).

Yes, King Jesus. Come.

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This has been the year of the church calendar for me. I have been encouraged as I remembered the lives of former believers on All Saints Day, and I have rejoiced as I remembered the coming of our Lord. Now the season of fasting is quickly coming, and though I am not one for giving up food, I am actually looking forward to it. My first Lent. Most of my fellow Protestant friends do not observe this season of the year, and I grew up thinking that it was something only Catholics did, not Presbyterians. This year, it’s for me.

So I am learning about Lent, a forty-day (excluding Sundays) season of fasting, reflection, and repentance in preparation for the observation of Easter. The practice of fasting before Easter is apparently very old, for Irenaeus (late 2nd century, early 3rd) indicated that a one to two day fast had been going on since “the time of our forefathers” (Catholic Education Resource Center). In the fourth century, the forty-day fast was becoming regularized, and in the fifth, Pope St. Leo insisted upon it.

ChurchYear.Net has a nice summary of the purpose of Lenten season:

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent […] can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead. However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”

So what am I going to do? I plan on fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, spending more time in prayer and scripture reading, reflecting on the crucifiction and resurrection, and giving up something that I tend to overdo–sugar. I know it sounds trite to give up sweets, but as my wife can testify, it really is something that I value and look forward to. Maybe I will give up eating meat on Friday, but perhaps I should take it easy on my first Lent. The main goal, of course, is spiritual reflection on self and on Christ.

What about you? Do you have any particular Lenten experiences or traditions that you would like to share?

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