All Saints’ Day Chapel Service for St. Catherine’s School
October 28 (Middle School) and October 29 (High School)
St. Catherine’s School, Richmond, VA
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
This time of year, people are never sure if I am in a costume or not. Not a costume, this is my uniform as a priest. Happy Halloween! Now why would a priest talk about Halloween, we will go through it. The name comes from the Evening before All Saints, or All Hallows as it used to be called. It is actually a contraction, Hallows Evening became Hallowe’en. It is a religious day when one gives it the proper meaning.
Today we are going to take a journey, not to another place, but through time.
Today we are sitting in the chapel at St. Catherine’s and some of you are in your classrooms watching the feed. When was this school founded?
1890! Right! For 131 years many souls have walked these halls, and different things have been taught over the years. But the spirit of the place remains the same, excellence and quality education. 1000s have walked these halls, just like you, with similar thoughts and feelings, worries and fears. We all might seem so very different, but in many ways we are all so very similar. We are bound together in our similarity, especially one.
Scientists announced about 15 years ago that we are all connected through a single common ancestor, an Eve they called her. Written in the coding in a little part of all your cells called the mitochondria is a snippet that goes back to about 155,000 years ago. In every living human, this snippet of coding is in every cell. The common ancestor is called the mt-MRCA, the mitochondrial-Most Recent Common Ancestor, which scientists called mitochondrial Eve, from the Bible Story. They think she lived on the plains of central Africa, and they watched the diversity spread and grow from this common source. Fascinating!
But this means that all of us, no matter how different we are, we are truly brothers and sisters, one human family. We are truly bound together with a little snippet of coding in a tiny part of every cell in your body.
So what does that have to do with Halloween? Stay with me. It does!
As Christianity spread from the Middle East, to and through the Roman Empire, and then up into Europe, especially northern Europe, it encountered new peoples and different faiths. In Britannia Christianity encountered the faith of the Druids. This time of year they felt a closeness between this world and the next. They called it a “thinness.” This was their New Years’ celebration and was called Samhain (pronounced So-win). It was a time when they would welcome the spirits of their ancestors and try to ward off the evil spirits that might come during these “thin” times. When Christianity would go into new areas, they would connect with the beliefs that were similar and sometimes incorporate them. This is called Syncretism, and the belief in our eternal connection with our ancestors was a biblical belief. In our reading today it was called the “great cloud of witnesses.” We are bound with those of the faith who have already passed, and we are in the great chain of belief that goes all the way back to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
In the 700s, Pope Gregory III moved the remembrance day, the Feast of All Saints from March to November 1 as a way to encourage those for whom this time of year was full of meaning. So November 1 became All Saints Day, and November 2 became All Souls Day. We honor and remember those that came before and especially those who recently passed. LatinX culture still celebrates it with Dia de los Muertos. It is not scary, it is a way to celebrate and reconnect with those who have come before.
Listen again to the words from Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…
Connecting with those who came before can help us in three ways.
When we remember our forebears, we are INSPIRED with HOPE. They did great and mighty things, and because of that we stand on their shoulders.
We are also ENCOURAGED to do our BEST. Nobody aims for 2nd place. We all should strive and accomplish what we can.
Lastly, we are helped to PERSEVERE through the hard times. We have an eternal cheering section rooting for us and pushing us on to do in our day what they did in theirs.
We stand on the shoulders of giants, who are still with us! We are bound together, and we are all one. But even in that unity, in all the time since our first mother mitochondrial Eve, and with all the saints of the faith that have gone before us on the path, of all that have come before you are the only you who has ever been born. You are unique in all of history, and have something to contribute to this race, this Human Race, that only you can bring. Have fun, be safe, and Happy Halloween. God bless you! Amen