IVP - Strangely Dim - An All Hallows Reflection on the Blood

October 30, 2009

An All Hallows Reflection on the Blood

By Christa Countryman.

It's pretty common for my roommate and I to spend time together, but recently we mixed things up a bit by spending a some time together in the ER. We should probably have been a little more serious, but really, in the last week of October, after seeing someone's hands (well, mine) covered in blood and bandages, how could a person not think, Hey! Halloween costume!

Well, maybe you wouldn't, but I did. While we were waiting for the nurse to administer my tetanus shot, I said to my roommate, "How about dressing up as a bloody victim?" She laughed.

To give you a little context, since you may not know that much about me, let me explain why this might have been funny. I have not willingly dressed up for anything, Halloween or otherwise, since I was quite young. One minor exception could be the midnight showing of this summer's Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince. Given that I was surrounded by very convincing Harrys, Ginny Weasleys, various Irishmen and Hogwarts students (some of whom were my friends), my rugby shirt and jeans hardly seemed to count as dress-up. Most days I just want to be comfortable and inconspicuous. But at the hospital I was just the opposite, covered in blood as I was. I was trying pretty hard not to think about it too much, and laughing about it made it easier.

Which is why, with Halloween looming on the horizon, my mind went the direction it did. I've always thought Halloween was a rather bizarre holiday, and I really don't celebrate it at all. I didn't know until I was in graduate school that there was a counter-holiday for the church, Reformation Day, and a special feast day for the church, All Saints Day, that coincide with Halloween. Truth be told, the first time someone said they were dressing up on Reformation Day as a great theologian of the church, I couldn't help thinking that this had to be a made-up holiday, that they were just trying to make an excuse to dress up or to do something evangelistic on a pagan holiday, that they were joking. But that seems to be what Halloween is for--not just dressing up, and not scaring away monsters (at least, not as such), but for putting a pretty face on an ugly problem.

Consider: Reformation Day is a celebration of the most remarkable fissure of the church in the history of the Christian faith. Reformations in doctrine, faith and practice certainly were in order, but this necessity is cause for grief. Whenever a church splits, the death of that unity (on all levels of nuance) is grievous.

All Saints Day (followed, notably, by All Souls Day) is a bit more positive in the sense that the church honors all saints, past and present, canonized or not. The two holidays are not just an ecclesiological shout-out to announce, "Hey--we've got dead folks, too!" It's a time to remember those faithful martyrs and beloved dead who have gone before, who were steadfast in extraordinary circumstances, and who set an example in service to the Lord that is worthy of recognition and aspiration. It is, I think, a time for the church to remember, collectively and as individual members, that we have been called out of darkness into light; that we, being in sin, are wounded, but the blood of Jesus, his wounds, have made our healing possible.

Once we accept this, we can see that there is much cause to celebrate in even a fissure as remarkable as the Reformation. Positive changes occurred in both the Catholic church and the Protestant manifestations of Christian practice as a result of the Reformation, including centuries of vigorous theology. There are saints and souls on both sides of this historical divide, and the work of healing continues, even today.

I guess thinking of the confluence of these holidays feels to me like a little trip to the ER on the eve of an important event. Here we are, on the cusp of November, about two months away from Christmas, when we, the body of Christ entire, will celebrate his advent and birth. We are now moving on into a season of waiting and a celebration of the hope we now have because of Christ's life and (come Easter) his death and resurrection. I hope you will forgive this very imperfect connection, but a brief season during which we acknowledge our wounds before we celebrate their healing seems highly appropriate. Physical wounds are difficult to ignore (the blood makes it pretty hard, sometimes). Likewise, the heavy necessity of Christ's innocent blood to heal our spiritual wounds should be present in our minds and hearts, even as we prepare to celebrate his coming.

So, Happy Halloween, and Reformation Day, and All Saints Day, and All Souls Day, everyone! Have fun, and revel in the continual mystery of faith: the now but not yet, the eternal intermingled with the temporal, the uncommon beauty of the coming winter, the adorable little scary goblins begging for treats.
Posted by Christa Countryman at October 30, 2009 2:03 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

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