We are souls being raised from the dead. You. Me. This is what it means to be haunted by the Holy Ghost, to be wooed by beauty and revelation toward our maker and redeemer Jesus Christ, to be transformed, rescued, “saved” – from a litany of losses, regrets and terrors we can barely name or comprehend. It can be awkward, really. Bursting out of graves. Being called by name from “walking dead” lives. This is what it means to become Christ’s church.
Living as we do in the middle of the story, this transformation is more disruptive than pretty, but it is deeply, wildly, astonishing.
Every year when the church celebrates Reformation Day and All Hallow’s Eve, and as I walk around neighborhoods decorated for Halloween and Day of the Dead, I’m struck all over again at Jesus’s subversive and beautiful upending of humanity’s worst traits and most primal supernatural fears. We humans have been a murderous lot from our beginnings, and we invite and give ourselves over to terrible misdeeds – the worst of which took place when we nailed the Great God of Creation bloodily to a tree. Dark sci-fi tales of aliens and cosmic goings-on – whether good or evil – resonate with us precisely because they are variations on the oldest biblical recountings of earthly visitations.
“Do not be afraid,” God tells us again and again through the Bible, as our knees buckle in encounters with both terrifying majesty and debilitating evil. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged.” (Joshua 1:9)
These are dire warnings, that we will NEED to be strong and courageous. But they are also a wooing – an invitation from a “far away/so close” Creator Being who refuses to win our hearts by force or bullying, who hides his face and glory so that we will not be coerced or crushed, who comes not to conquer but to allure. We can hardly trust this notion that is so alien to our view of – well – “aliens”. This God’s ways are the opposite of coercion or oppression of our true selves that so many associate with church and religion. This hidden God longs for us to hear, to seek, to find, to know him – that we come slowly and gradually to see his infinitely unfolding goodness and mercies.
Some days, I am deeply ashamed of how ugly I can be, as my own sins are exposed and I learn to repent. And some days I feel like Ezekiel’s dry skeletons, weary and stripped of tenderness and flesh. But some days are glory days, when I get a glimpse of re-formation, Reformation, re-birth. And when I come to church, I see this in you, too. God slowly revealing himself to you and me, not all at once, but over time, as we worship, break bread and commune together, do life and share burdens, reminding each other of the great Gospel story we are part of, as we are changed “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18, Romans 8:18).
Signs of all kinds of “dyings” surround us, Halloween or no – small and large reminders that death was never God’s intended end, that we are made for Resurrection. Despite lethal wounds and losses, God says we can be re-made. Right in front of you, we who were dead are being given new life by Jesus – right here at FPCH, among your Sunday school classes and friends, among people you know and don’t know, in your families and mine.