Those who mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

We want to be happy. That desire is natural. Mourning is our reaction to things that have gone wrong; when we mourn, we are not happy. The world will not trust any teacher who connects mourning with blessings; the two are opposites and might cancel each other, or at least be incompatible, as far as the world is concerned.

Christ’s blessing, though, is comfort. People who are always happy do not need comfort, but Jesus promises the blessing of comfort. He knows that we will not always be happy in this sin-polluted world. We face our own sins and the sins of other people and the results of sin in this world. If we can be happy about the world the way it is today, we are not like God. God is displeased with sin and evil in the world. Sin and evil cause God to grieve.

Jesus taught people to “repent and believe the Gospel.” To repent is to seek a change. Martin Luther wrote, as the first of his Ninety-Five Theses, “When our Lord Jesus said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” We cannot repent once and be done repenting. We do not repent only on special occasions. Every day we sin, and every day we are sorry. Every day we need a Savior. Every day we want to change ourselves and the world around us, making ourselves and the world better.

We are not satisfied with the condition of the world. That is good: God is not satisfied with the world either. We try our best to change things, to be like Jesus, but we always fall short of his standards. For this we are sorry. For this we repent. For this we mourn. Christ’s blessing belongs to us, though, because his comfort has already entered our lives. “Believe the good news,” Jesus says. He came to change us, to pay for our sins and remove our guilt, to make us his forever. His life and death and resurrection bring us comfort, good news, the guarantee of a better life today and forever. These are the promises of Jesus, promises that he delivers to us every day.

We do not earn comfort by mourning. We do not earn forgiveness by repenting. Comfort and forgiveness are gifts from Jesus, bought by his blood and given to us free of charge. Without his love, we would have to lower our standards—we would have to accept our sins, accept evil in the world, accept eternal condemnation. We would have to despair and live without hope. Because of the work Jesus has accomplished, we have hope and comfort. Now we can mourn without despair; now we can repent every day, because we turn to God and receive his blessing of comfort every day. J.

Poor in spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Possibly Jesus is describing people who lack spiritual qualities, saying that even they can be blessed by God, in spite of their spiritual poverty. That possibility is unlikely, though; on another occasion Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… but woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:20, 24). As uncomfortable as this truth might be for us, Jesus is talking about wealth as the world means wealth, and Jesus then says it is better to be poor than to be rich. He also said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 9:24).

Is there no hope for the salvation of the wealthy, as wealth is measured by the world? What about Abraham and Solomon, who were both very wealthy? There is hope, because Abraham and Solomon were not owned by their possessions. It is not how many possessions you own that determine whether you are poor in spirit; the question rather is how much do your possessions own you? What Abraham and Solomon possessed did not matter much to them, because their eyes were on a better world. Though they were wealthy, they were poor in spirit, not being owned by their possessions.

A pauper with nothing in this world might still fail to be poor in spirit, if that pauper envies other people and dreams of what he or she would do with a million dollars. “Poor in spirit” describes a person’s attitude towards wealth and possessions, whether that person has wealth and possessions or only wishes for wealth and possessions. Lack of interest in worldly wealth is a virtue to Jesus; it is also a virtue in other religions. Stoics and Buddhists teach their students to be disinterested in this world, not to care about riches or about poverty. Disinterest in worldly wealth is a common theme among the religions of the world.

How does one acquire this splendid ability to be disinterested in the world and to be more interested in higher truths? Stoics and Buddhists teach that a person must work at developing such an attitude. Jesus offers an easier way. He says that the virtue of disinterest in wealth is the result of a gift, a blessing from God. The name of that blessing is the kingdom of heaven.

No one can earn a place in the kingdom of heaven. We do not earn a place in God’s kingdom by forcing ourselves to be poor in spirit. The kingdom of heaven is God’s gift to us because he loves us. Through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are rescued from all our failings, including any sinful interest in worldly wealth. God claims us as his children and makes us citizens of his kingdom. We are promised eternal life with Jesus in a new creation. Even today we are already citizens of that new creation. Our membership in the Church that trusts Jesus, our invitation to speak within God in prayer at any time, our confidence that God is taking care of us today and meeting all our needs: all these good things are privileges of our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.

Because we have these privileges, we can be poor in spirit. We can stop being concerned with the wealth and pleasures that the world offers, as our attention is diverted to the other kingdom where we are citizens. Those who are blessed with the gift of the kingdom of heaven will, by nature, become poor in spirit. This, according to Jesus, is one way we might recognize the people who have received his gift of the kingdom of heaven. J.

Blessed

Jesus packs two surprises into the opening of his sermon. The first surprise is the kind of people Jesus describes as “blessed.” To the world, a successful person is happy, powerful, in control, and able to make other people do things his or her way. Jesus says the opposite. He begins with those who are “poor in spirit”—whatever that means, it does not sound at all positive. “Those who mourn,” Jesus says, are blessed, as are the meek and the merciful and the pure in heart. Jesus does not say that people who have what they want are blessed; instead he calls blessed those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Jesus does not say that the people who win fights are blessed; instead he favors the peacemakers. Finally, those people who seem to have the biggest problem, those who are persecuted, are also identified by Jesus as blessed.

People that the world would label losers are described by Jesus as blessed. Clearly, Jesus does not see people with the world’s vision. In his years on earth, Jesus modeled a successful life according to his own vision: a life of obedience to God and of service to others. Jesus seemed like a failure to the world, but the truth is that Jesus was a resounding success.

Now, Jesus wants us to be like him. He wants us to forget ourselves, to take up a cross, and to follow him. Other religions proclaim the same virtues: self-denial, dedication to what is holy, and love for others. Worldly success is acknowledged by leaders in various religions to be shallow and unsatisfying. Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and people of other religions unanimously acknowledge that the selfish, materialistic goals of the world are worse than useless. Those goals are harmful to the people who pursue them and to anyone who gets in their way.

God wants to bless people who are meek and merciful; he wants to bless even those who are persecuted for the truth. Is this what Jesus is saying? Not exactly. The second surprise in his sermon introduction is contained in the word “blessed.” The word describes, not those who deserve a reward, but those who have received a gift. Jesus does not say, “If you are merciful, you will receive mercy.” He says, “You have a gift when you are merciful, because you already have received mercy.”

Jesus announces the delivery of seven gifts—seven being a Biblical number for completeness. The seven gifts are: the kingdom of heaven, comfort, an inheritance (the earth), satisfaction of the need for righteousness, mercy, seeing God, and being called children of God. These seven blessings are gifts; they are not prizes earned by our efforts to be like Jesus. They are given to us by God’s grace, delivered through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. We are never good enough to earn a place in the kingdom of heaven; we cannot be that good. Jesus lived a perfect life and credited his rewards to our accounts. We will never deserve God’s mercy, but God has mercy on us and forgives us our sins through the death of Jesus on the cross. We do not deserve to be called children of God, or even to see God, but the gift of Jesus makes these things possible for us.

These gifts change our lives today. Because we have received mercy, we become merciful. Because we will see God, we purify our hearts today. Another result of these gifts is persecution. The world hates Jesus; therefore, it hates anyone who is being transformed into the image of Jesus. The world hates everyone that Jesus loves. Persecution is a blessing to Christians, though, because persecution also makes us more like Jesus. When we are persecuted for trusting his promises, our suffering reminds us of his cross and of the gifts he gives us through the cross. The world’s persecution reminds us whose side we are on: we are on the side of Jesus, the ultimate winner. Being named a member of his team is nothing more or less than a gift—a blessing. J.

Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

“Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them” (Matthew 5:1-2).

Today teachers generally stand to lecture. Preachers stand to preach their sermons to the congregation. When Jesus taught, he sat on a mountain (probably more of a hillside), and his listeners spread out around him. As Moses received the word of God on Mount Sinai and shared it with the people of Israel, so Jesus shared his word with his disciples on a mountain.

In this outdoor classroom, the closest disciples sat at the feet of the teacher. They had committed time to follow him; they wanted to hear every word. More casual followers and the merely curious were in the back of the crowd. If they had made no commitment to Jesus but were just stopping by to hear him for one day, they could not be as close to him while he taught.

Customs have changed. People from the first century, if they could visit a twenty-first century American congregation, would be astonished to see the back pews filled and the front pews empty. They would think that most American churchgoers have only a shallow commitment to the Lord, a passing interest rather than true discipleship. I know one pastor who even rotated the hymnals, moving the worn volumes to the front pews and putting the pristine hymnals taken from the front in the back pews of the church.

Now, when Jesus taught, Matthew was one of the front-row students. He would be named as one of the twelve apostles, which means that he would be sent out to tell others what he had heard Jesus say. He memorized the preaching of Jesus and repeated it often, so we can trust his account to be accurate, a true record of Jesus’ sermon. To be a disciple means more to love Jesus: being a disciple means listening carefully to Jesus and repeating what he says for the benefit of others. Disciples learn by imitating. Even today, God calls us to imitate Jesus.

We have a problem: the standards Jesus sets are too high for us to achieve. We can sit and listen, we can repeat his words, but we cannot fulfill them. Only Jesus can fulfill the Law. Only Jesus can offer the promises of the Gospel. In the end, “repent and believe” is the genuine reaction a disciple has to the words of Jesus. Anything more is really less. When we struggle to be like Jesus, we fall short. When we repent of our sins and believe his promise to rescue us, we are rescued.

More than rescued, we are transformed, being shaped to resemble Jesus. We will not resemble him in height or skin color or any outward appearance; in those, we remain diverse, just as God created us. But in mindset, in attitude, in behavior, we become more like Jesus—not by the power of his commandments, but by the power of his forgiveness. As we see his blessings at work in our lives, we know the truth about Jesus and about ourselves. That truth sets us free. J.

A brief update about my writing (If I’m not careful, the title will be longer than the post!)

I searched last weekend and did not find it; I searched again this afternoon and finally found it (in roughly the place I first looked last weekend). It is a manuscript, something I wrote in March through June of 2000. With some careful editing and rewriting, I hope it will be my next book.

The topic of the manuscript is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. Many Christians treasure these chapters, and quite a few have already written about them. My goal for this book is to find the Gospel in this sermon, to reveal how Jesus does more than tell us how to live our lives, but instead makes promises to us in this sermon. Because the manuscript is handwritten, I must take time to type it, but that will make editing easier. (I just hope I can still read my cursive after all these years.)

Meanwhile, I have added the promised links to my previous post, and I have also added “From Your Friends at FirstChurch” to the books by Salvageable page.

More tomorrow. J.

Bagging leaves, and a book is born!

This afternoon I raked and bagged eight bags of autumn leaves—using biodegradable bags, of course. I stopped with eight, because eight is all the curb can contain—and that’s two rows of four bags, no less. Besides, eight bags was about as much as my lower back and my allergies would tolerate.

Mrs. Dim makes my job a little easier. When she clears her yard of leaves, she also blows the leaves in my yard several feet away from the property line. As a result, I hardly need to rake at all; I can just scoop the leaves into the bags, and the job is quickly done.

When I had finished the eight bags, I went inside, cleaned up, changed clothes, and submitted a book to Kindle and Amazon. From their point of view, it’s my latest book, but I actually wrote it in 2002. Because it is satire, I’ve been reluctant to put it out there. When I first wrote it, I had a few copies made at the local printer and shared them with family and friends. I even brought one to a writing workshop in 2003. A pastor who was there read it and giggled over every page. “You have to get this published, J.,” he told me. Well, finally, after all these years, I have followed his advice.

The premise of the book is that a congregation, called FirstChurch, was trying to figure out why they were not as successful as the other churches whose advice they were following. They noticed one difference: the successful congregations had pastors who had written books about the church. So they asked their pastor to write a book. Desperate for material, he gathered material from the various organizations in FirstChurch and sent them to be published, reasoning that showing how to do it is as helpful as telling how to do it.

Here is my blurb for the book cover: “This is not just another book telling you how to make your church grow. Instead of telling, this book shows you what to do. With the help of Salvageable, Pastor Scribble has collected reports and letters and minutes from various organizations in FirstChurch. Together, they tell the story of a place where, as their motto says, ‘The Church comes first.’ Not everyone appreciates satire. This book might not be for you. But if you want a few chuckles over the quirks and oddities in the life of a typical American congregation, this book might be exactly what you are seeking.”

The point of the satire is not to mock any Christians I have known. Instead, the book portrays a mindset of a congregation, one that other bloggers have labeled Churchian. “The Church comes first” says it all. Obsessed with organizational structure and knowing that they need to bring in new members, the leaders of FirstChurch have lost sight of why the Church exists and why they have a mission to bring in new members.

Here is a sample of what the book contains:

NOTICE TO ALL FIRSTCHURCH MEMBERS:

It has come to our attention that some of our members are parking in the three spaces clearly labeled “Visitor Parking.” Because some of our members have recently joined FirstChurch, we are willing to consider this an “honest mistake” for now. Please remember that these three spaces are meant for visitors to the congregation, not for our members. After all, we want to be known throughout the community as a friendly congregation. If members continue to park in these spaces on Sunday morning, action will be taken to remove them from the congregation. Thank you very much.

Your friends at FirstChurch

The Kindle version, when available, will cost three dollars; the print version will cost six dollars. I recommend the print version for two reasons: I was able to use a different font for each organization, something that Kindle does not allow; and I was able to add a running joke regarding, “This page is intentionally left blank,” which would not have made sense on Kindle. I will add links to this post when the book is available. J.

 

A week late, but I wanted to get it right

Jerry was driving home about ten o’clock Friday night when he spotted a young woman walking on the gravel next to the highway. Her thumb was pointed in the classic hitchhiker position as she walked. Jerry was not in the habit of stopping for hitchhikers, but this young woman seemed harmless. It was late at night on a cool evening, too late and too cold for her to be walking alone, Jerry thought. He slowed to a stop next to her, and she opened the car door and hopped in.

“Thanks,” she said to him. “My name’s Clairisse. I live at 304 Pine Street. Hey, I appreciate the ride.”

“No problem,” Jerry said as he accelerated onto the highway. He knew the neighborhood; Pine Street was in the older part of town, about two miles away. He had no reservation about taking her there.

Jerry glanced at her while he drove. She had long straight blonde hair, parted at the center of her head. A flower-patterned headband encircled her head. She had sky-blue eyes; and when she smiled, she showed straight even teeth. A brightly-colored shirt, blue jeans that flared below the knees, and sandals completed her outfit. Jerry reflected that Halloween had just passed; she might easily be dressed as a hippy for a costume party.

She gazed out the window, drumming her fingers on the handrest of the car door. Jerry struggled to think of something to say to her, but nothing came to mind.  All too soon, he was turning onto Pine Street. He stopped in front of #304, a two-story house that looked as though it had seen better days, although it was hard to be sure in the dark. “Thanks again,” Clairisse chirped at him, and in a trice she was out of the car and headed toward the house. Being a gentleman, Jerry waited until he had seen her open the door and enter the house safely. Then he sighed, shrugged his shoulders once, and drove home.

Saturday morning as he got into his car, he noticed something white between the passenger seat and the car door. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a knitted sweater, the kind that buttons up the front. He had not noticed the sweater Friday night, but Clairisse could have been holding it when she got into the car; she could have dropped it when she left the car. Remembering her address, he decided to return the sweater on his way to work that noon.

Jerry stopped his car on the street in front of 304 Pine Street. He carried the sweater to the door and rang the doorbell. He waited for a few seconds, breathlessly picturing the lovely Clairisse. He rang the bell again. Finally, a tall elderly gentleman opened the door. “Can I help you?” he asked Jerry.

Jerry held up the sweater. “Could you give this to Clairrisse?” he asked. Thinking that the man might be her grandfather, he added, “I gave her a ride home last night, and she left it in my car.”

Slowly, the gentleman took the sweater. “Yes, this belonged to Clairisse,” he affirmed. “You’re not the first young man who brought it back. I suppose you should know, though, that my daughter Clairisse died fifty years ago this weekend.” He didn’t say any more. He just stood there in the doorway, holding the sweater.

“Oh,” said Jerry. “I see.” He could think of nothing more to say. “I’d better be going,” he added, and he turned and walked back to his car.

The old man closed the door. Slowly he ascended the staircase to the second floor. Stopping, he knocked on a bedroom door. The door flew open. Clairisse was standing there.

He handed her the sweater. “It’s back again,” he told her.

“Did you get much of a reaction when you told him I was dead?’ she asked, taking the sweater.

“Not much,” he replied. Shaking his head, he commented, “I don’t see why you keep doing this.”

“It’s fun!” she exclaimed. She gave the gentleman a smile and closed the bedroom door.

Discussion questions:

  1. This short story is based on a common urban legend called the Vanishing Hitchhiker. What details does the author add to the story?
  2. How would you react if someone told you that a passenger who rode in your car last night had been dead for fifty years?
  3. In the song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” why does the captain want Dinah to blow her horn. Being that she’s in the kitchen, do you think the horn signals mealtime? Or what?
  4. Did you notice that the surprise ending to the story does not clarify whether Clairisse is a playful girl or is actually a ghost after all? Explain.

J.

Untitled post about new printer

As part of the Mayan apocalypse in October 2012, our family desktop computer failed, followed a few days later by the printer. Of course we had no choice but to replace them both, even with expensive car repairs already on our credit cards. I am still using the same computer today, although at seven years old it’s a bit slow on the Internet and does not always behave properly. But over the past several months the printer has been failing, and I finally replaced it with a new printer last night.

The failure was in the mechanism that draws paper into the printer. The printer repeatedly reported a paper jam, even though the paper was inserted properly. We got through the summer and into autumn using a procedure of rattling the stack of paper, then unplugging and replugging the power cable and computer cable on the back of the printer. Sometimes that process would work the first time; sometimes it required a repetition or two. Sometimes the printer worked without any phony paper jam report. But the problem was increasing, and finally I had had enough.

The new printer cost only $49 at Walmart. But money is only part of the problem, especially when it comes to lingering effects of the Mayan apocalypse. I bought the same brand of printer that I was replacing, hoping that I would be able to use the same cords. The computer cord turned out to be usable, but the power cord attachment is completely different. So I had to spend more than five minutes identifying the printer power cord among all those going into the power strip, unplugging and removing that cord, and then snaking the new power cord behind the computer to the power strip.

Next, I had to get the printer working, following very sketchy instructions. Those instructions detailed the working of the lights and buttons on the panel, but neglected to tell me the location of the power button. I had to find that button myself. It was clear where the paper goes in and where the paper comes out, but it took some experimenting to find exactly what panel has to be extended, and how far, for the paper to feed properly. Then I had to reinsert the ink cartridges, because I had only set them into place, and they required a firm push to be installed correctly. Once that was accomplished, the printer was kind enough to print a page giving me some information about its wireless functions.

But I wanted to be able to print from the desktop computer, and that required an app called a driver. Manufacturers used to put that app on a compact disk that came with the printer, but now they prefer that the user downloads the app. I made the mistake of trying to find that app through the computer’s capabilities Things were going fine until the computer asked me to choose the new printer from a list of printers. My new printer was not on the list. But an option was offered to update the list of printers through a Windows app, and I selected that option.

How many printers do you suppose have hit the market over the last several years? The correct answer must be in the hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand. All I can report is that it took my seven-year-old computer twenty minutes to update its list of printers… and my new printer still wasn’t on its list.

I backed out of that procedure and asked Google for help. Google sent me to the proper page on the web site of the printer’s manufacturer to download the driver. It still took another fifteen minutes before I had a working printer, but I was able to print five pages before I had even completed the installation process.

As part of the installation process, the computer was urging me to activate an app in the printer that would automatically order new print cartridges to be sent to me in the mail when the ink supply is getting low. Assuming that I would have to pay by credit card for the privilege, I backed out of that process. The option remains, and I’m sure to get reminders that I still haven’t finished setting up the app. That’s fine with me. Keep reminding me to do something I don’t want to do, and I can keep on ignoring you.

Insert snappy conclusion and publish. J.

Pascal and Descartes

In the past few days I have read the works of two important philosophers: Blaise Pascal and Rene Descartes. Both lived in France during the 1600s; in fact, they knew each other. Both excelled in science and mathematics as well as philosophy. But Pascal is probably the last writer of the Reformation, while Descartes is definitely the first of the modern philosophers.

Blaise Pascal was part of a movement in France which was called Jansenism. Remaining within the Roman Catholic Church, Jansenists drew their teachings from the Bible and from the writings of Augustine of Hippo. Their enemies (which included the Jesuits) accused them of being Calvinists rather than faithful Catholics. Pascal never completed his most important book, the Pensees (Thoughts or Meditations). It remained in outline form, with many sections fleshed out; because it was written on scraps of paper, even the order of the material is questionable. But it is clear that Pascal was seeking to convince a skeptical reader of the existence and importance of God. In one section, often called “Pascal’s wager,” the philosopher suggests that it is better to believe in God and be wrong—in which case there are no dire consequences—than to refuse to believe in God and be wrong—in which case the consequences are enormous and catastrophic. I suspect the wager, as such, is intended as a joke, since Pascal knew that Christian faith is far more serious than a gamble. Throughout his work, Pascal demonstrates a deep, sincere faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom he distinguishes from the God of the philosophers.

Rene Descartes also wrote Meditations, although his works were finished and published in the form he intended. Descartes begins by suggesting that everything he had learned might be wrong. What he had been taught and what he had perceived with his senses might both be faulty. He resolved to doubt everything; then he would see what truth he could deduce in the midst of his doubt. He pointed out that he must exist, since he was thinking. (“Cogito ergo sum,” or, “I think, therefore I am”). But something other than Pascal must exist, since he received input or stimulus from outside of his mind. Both he and those other existing things must have a cause, and Descartes reasoned that the First Cause is God. He then pondered the nature of a God who creates, determining that such a God must be benevolent rather than devious or malicious. From that Descartes concluded that he could trust his senses as well as his reasoning and could use science to study the world around him.

(It should be noted that the movie Matrix pictures the alternate possibility—that people think, but that no benevolent God is responsible for creating the world in which they exist. Therefore, it is possible, even likely, that the world in which they truly exist is entirely unlike the world they perceive.)

Pascal, like most Christians before him, began with God and with revealed knowledge, using philosophy and reason to build a system of thought that included science but left all things in God’s hands. Descartes, like most modern philosophers since his time, began with himself and worked his way to knowledge of God and of the world.

I found no mention of Pascal in Descartes’ book, but Pascal mentions Descartes. He was unimpressed by Descartes’ approach, concerned that the God Descartes would find by starting with himself would not be the true God. This has remained a problem for modern philosophy ever since. In the 1600s, Descartes said, “Question everything.” In the 1800s, Soren Kierkegaard responded, “Why?” J.

The Festival of All Saints

An on-going argument asks whether the world has stolen Christmas from the Church or the Church first claimed December 25 from worldly celebrations. No question needs to be asked about the Festival of All Saints (November 1). This festival clearly was established by Christians to replace a pagan holiday held in the middle of autumn every year.

Some (not all!) ancient European cultures marked a night half-way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer, and both are getting colder, so thoughts of death are in peoples’ minds. Some European people believed that the spirits of the dead could wander the earth on this night; others thought of witchcraft or of various monsters set loose for the Night of the Dead. Treats were offered to these malevolent beings to bribe them, asking that they not play tricks on the living. Clearly, many Halloween customs have their origin in this preChristian observance.

Christian missionaries sought to counter this superstition with a holiday that would remind believers that Jesus has conquered death and the grave, that evil and darkness cannot prevail against him or his Church. Therefore, November 1 was designated “All Saints Day.” It was meant to be an autumnal echo of the Festival of the Resurrection, or Easter Sunday, that occurs every year in the springtime. As Christians remember the saints, we also remember who changed them from sinners to saints and who shares with them a victory over evil and death. Like every other Christian celebration, the Festival of All Saints is about Jesus Christ.

Saints are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. They are people who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Some saints are alive on earth, battling tribulation with the power of the Gospel. Other saints are with Jesus in Paradise, free from the struggles of this life, awaiting the day of resurrection. When Jesus appears in glory, all the dead will be raised—not undead zombies, but living beings, healed from all their former sicknesses and injuries. All will stand before the throne of Christ, and he will welcome the saints into the new and perfect creation. Those who did not want to be saints will be sent away to share the punishment of Satan and the other fallen angels.

During this Festival of All Saints (which some congregations observe on the first Sunday of November, not necessarily November 1), Christians remember the saints. We remember Biblical saints from both Testaments, all those who trusted God’s promises and were his people. We remember saints from more recent times—writers, teachers, reformers, hymnwriters, missionaries, and others who contributed to the life of the Church. We remember saints we have known—pastors and Sunday School teachers who told us about Jesus when we were young, as well as family and friends who have died and are buried. All these saints we will see on the Day of the Lord, the Resurrection Day that is coming.

But for Christians living in the tribulation, this is also our day. By the power of God’s Word, we also are saints. We celebrate the promises that we believe. We celebrate the gifts that come from Christ’s accomplishments—gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and victory over all that is evil. While we don’t ask the saints in Paradise to pray for us or to work any favors for us, we do support one another in this world with our prayers and our encouragement. We look forward to a perfect world while we strive to do what good we can in this present world.

Some Christian congregations struggle against Halloween. They have autumn festivals or trunk and treat events to draw people away from Halloween observances. Lutherans, of course, have Reformation Day: the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the eve of All Saints Day. But other Christians embrace Halloween. They see the festival as one more way to celebrate Christ’s victory over all that is evil. We do not need to fear ghosts, zombies, or other monsters. We do not even need to fear Satan. We can laugh at him, saying, “All evil has been crushed, and Christ our Lord reigns forever.” The Festival of All Saints gives us confidence that Christ has won and evil has lost forever. J.