I See Dead People

During a recent visit home, my family and I were reflecting on my time growing up, and way that we celebrated Halloween. More accurately, we were talking about the way that we didn’t celebrate Halloween. I grew up in a calvary chapel in the early 90’s and was among Christians who took a very hard-line stance against the festivities. Instead, the churches I was around often hosted “harvest parties” or “trunk or treats”. These events formed “churchy” alternatives to the usual Halloween fare and made sure to stay bright and clean as opposed to the morbidness and death that sometimes accompanies this time of year. After all, Christians shouldn’t celebrate a holiday focused on dead people, right?

Well, I’m not here to judge your stances on Halloween (my family’s and mine are ever evolving), However, as it turns out, Halloween precedes a day when Christians have traditionally focused plenty on dead people, and I think are all the better for it.

You may or may not know that November 1st on the Christian calendar is a holiday called “all saints day”. Traditionally, it has been a time to reflect on Christians who have come before us and have since passed away, now waiting for the resurrection. For some of us this may seem strange. Why have a holiday focused on dead Christians? For others this may even raise suspicion, feeling akin to an unhealthy veneration of the Saints that may occur in some Catholic circles.

Despite this, there truly is plenty of reason to celebrate a Holiday about dead people, or more accurately (and less provocatively), to reflect on the lives of saints who have gone before us. I’d like to offer a few reasons this weekend that it might be worth reflecting on some dead saints this Monday.

Reason 1: Reflecting on the Saints of old allows us to witness WHOLE LIVES of devotion.

Over the past few years there has been a sad trend of Christian leaders who have impacted millions and then left the faith, or been found to be living double lives behind the scenes. It is soul crushing to be influenced by these people, and then see them reject Christ.
That is a far less common problem when we turn to the saints who have already gone. In them we can see a whole life lived in devotion to God, from conversion to death. While they are of course flawed people like all of us, we don’t have to fear that they may abandon their Lord. They have already proclaimed his name and finished their race. They become prime examples to us of faithfulness. Many influential Christians today gain credibility from celebrity status or social media presence. Dead Christians retain their fame because they lived for Christ, celebrity treatment or not.

Reason 2: Reflecting on the Saints of Old gives us perspective, and windows into the minds of Christians who lived in very different circumstances

We have a tendency to like authors and speakers who are our contemporaries, after all, we get them, and they get us. The problem is that each generation often has cultural blinders or biases that cause them to focus on/interpret things in very specific ways. We decide it must be the end times because of this or that current event. We decide the world must be at its worst now because of what this or that American politician did or said. We then cope with such things according to how our contemporaries, influenced by the same cultural forces as us, suggest.

But then we read Augustine who watched the Roman empire fall and had to help Christians make sense of it. Or we read Bonhoeffer who had to watch Hitler rise to power and rot away as his prisoner. We gain a whole new sense of what Christianity can look like, and we learn from people who don’t have the same spiritual blind spots that we do.

Reason 3: Those same saints are not truly gone, and they cheer us onward towards the ultimate climax when Jesus will restore all things.

While I don’t want to necessarily paint too literal a picture of deceased Christians gathered around a heavenly window looking down on us (The Bible has little specific to say about the state of those who have died other than the fact that they are with Christ), Hebrews 12:1 does paint a vivid picture for us of the fact that we now walk forward toward our goal surrounded by all of the saints who have gone before us. You are not alone, and the saints that you engage with in reflection and recollection, even the dead ones, are still truly alive. When we engage with and think back on those who have gone before us, we see proof that Christians who cling to Christ can endure anything, and they actively remind us, as a cheering audience, that the best is yet to come.

So this Monday, Try observing a holiday about dead people. Remember and recount the stories of the faithfulness of your grandfather who lived humbly for God, or a since-passed church member who loved Jesus with all her heart. Read stories of the saints, and let their wisdom change you, and consider than in Christ, you are united with them all, and walking towards a bright future when God raises all of us to new life.

I think I already used this song in a previous post, but it seemed too appropriate to not use again...

Dan Vandzura