Why are we so fascinated with ghosts, goblins, skeletons, monsters and all things Halloween? I suspect it is because it is a way we all, including children, can come to grips with the dark side of life--with the existence of evil and death. As bizarre as the holiday is, I believe such an acknowledgement of the dark side is healthy.
Of course, the word, “Halloween,” is a contraction of “All Hallows Eve,” or the Eve of All Saints Day. Halloween is one of those attempts that the Christian church has made to “baptize” a pagan holiday. Of course, the church has tried to do that with most of its holidays. Jesus was not actually born on December 25, and there is no mention of Easter bunnies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. These and other symbols were simply co-opted from pagan holidays. Often it was a way in which Christians could at least partially affirm pagan views and hopes (Pagans aren’t completely wrong.) Christians used the holidays as an evangelism tool to spread the message that all human hopes find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus.
Christians affirm the importance of the continuing power of the presence of the dead among us. Thus we sing of “the mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.” We acknowledge with scripture that we are surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) of those people of faith who have gone before us.
We can say with the New York Yankee, Derek Jeter, “The ghosts will show up eventually.” He was trying to encourage a teammate as it seemed the Yankees were going to be defeated by their arch rivals the Boston Red Sox in the final game of the American League playoffs. The teammate, Aaron Boone, went on to hit the winning homerun. Jeter was talking about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and the Yankee greats of yore. We talk of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Gideon, and our parents and Sunday School teachers who first told us the story of Jesus, and the other saints we have known.
Shirley Cox, former Monroe County historian, has published a couple of collections of ghost stories of the Rochester area. One such story is of an allegedly haunted church, the Parma Greece United Church of Christ. At least a couple of church organists have told of “somebody or something...shaking the church’s front door almost off its hinges” on some occasions when the pipe organ is played. This continued even after the front doors were replaced.
Even the church’s pastor, Rev. Gary Ferner, tells of hearing strange noises. According to the RochesterDemocrat and Chronicle, “When [Pastor Ferner] first arrives at the church and is the only person in the building, about once each week, he hears the murmur of a large crowd gathered in the sanctuary down the hall from his office. But when he checks, the room is empty and the noise gradually disappears.”
I’ve never heard such a noise in our church, but I know that the ghosts are there. I have felt the “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”
©2003 C. David Hess