On 31st October each year Helen and I become party poopers, spoil sports. We don’t answer the door when local children come trick or treating. Now this isn’t because we don’t want families to have fun. It isn’t even because trick or treating by older children can be a little intimidating. It’s because we are Christians. Allow me to explain.
In the Gospel today the rich man and the poor beggar at his gate, Lazarus, find themselves separated at death. The rich man, Dives, is in hell on account of his unloving and ungenerous attitude towards a poor man he could have helped. Afar off he sees Lazarus, that same poor man, in Abraham’s bosom; that is in Paradise. Between them, as the story tells, a great gulf is fixed. It is impossible now for the rich man to be saved. He must suffer in his own hatefulness. He is not even allowed to warn his living relatives. They and he have the Law and the Prophets. All have no excuse. At least his relatives still have a chance to wake up and repent. For Dives though it is too late.
The ancients, we might call them pagans, believed that there was no law forbidding converse with the dead; there was no “great gulf fixed”. In many ways, quite the contrary; the living were plagued, infested with the dead. This life and the next were not separated by moral choices but merely by the occasional lack of a suitable medium to connect the two. The Hebrews had quite a different take on this, not by mere opinion or lifestyle choice but by divine revelation. Not that the dead couldn’t in principle contact the living but rather such communications incurred the wrath of God who was jealous in His love for His people and could not countenance any supernatural rival, imagined or real. Necromancers and those who like Saul consulted mediums invariably came to a sticky end.
Other traditions in paganism believed that at certain times of the year the dead invaded the realm of the living en masse. As the days darkened into winter it was believed that evil and mischievous spirits from beyond the grave might infiltrate the realm of the living bringing with them their own contagious darkness. To ward them off bonfires were lit and sympathetic magic, (trick or treating today), might be used to inflict harm on the evil spirits or at least to contain them.
From all these pagan customs and beliefs Hallowe’en in our own time has been reborn; not just a bit of fun for the kids but as a subtle undermining of Christian beliefs about death in the light of the resurrection of Christ. They, the pagans, have even appropriated the western Christian feast that originally supplanted their own, the feast of All Hallows or All Saints and its forefeast, All Hallows Eve or Hallowe’en. The Orthodox Church in the west deliberately chose the day the pagans celebrated their dangerous and psychological harmful superstitions to commemorate the saints in Light in Paradise with the Eve a holy commemoration of all those who died in Christ.
For a Christian, death and evil present no fear for Christ has conquered death by His holy resurrection. Rather a Christian will learn to fear making those bad choices (as did the Rich Man who despised the beggar Lazarus) which might create a great gulf in eternity between himself and God. Only repentance will give him confidence in a life-giving closeness to God in this life and, therefore, the next. However, in our secular world today, we live in an amoral universe and, unsurprisingly, paganism has crept back under the door with its fears and evil infested irrationality. Dress it up as entertainment and you have a winning combination, ignorance and death. Christians, therefore, should separate themselves from this growing darkness. They should walk in the light and tend to Lazarus’ wounds and poverty. Show love and compassion and there will be no great gulf between you and the living God. But make your choice. Lazarus sits at your gate.