One of our greatest fears is the fear of death.
Scholars from Freud to Thich Nhat Hahn actually propose that our fear of death is the root of all our fear. Whether we fear our own death or the death of people we love, this primordial fear can be a powerful force.
Just ask any person who has ever suffered a panic attack. When your heart races crazily, you feel like you cannot for the life of you breathe, and those familiar life ending fears rage in, you become like a wild eyed animal willing to do anything to save your life on this earth.
I will not claim that death will ever be a subject that does not engender some fear or sadness on our part.
But I do know that fear of death does not have to have such great hold over us.
Thich Hnat Hnah in his book No Death, No Fear talks about how death is not so much an ending, but a transformation of life. If we can trust in the continued presence of ourselves and our loved ones in the universe, the physical loss of them in this earthly life loses some of its sting.
Similarly, the Christian faith upholds the belief that death does not have the final say. Through Christ, Love conquered death. Therefore our future is one of resurrection and a heavenly afterlife. None of us cease to be, we just pass into another and better realm.
And this other realm is not even one that is entirely separate from the one we inhabit on earth. Most of us who have lost loved ones have had those moments when we feel the veil is lifted. We may mysteriously sense our loved one’s presence with us or connect with them in a dream. At the very least, we can sense reverberations of their spirit among us and their love remaining in our hearts.
Tonight, All Hallow’s or All Saint’s Eve, is actually a night when we remember death, the constancy of souls, and the transparency of the veil.
Ancient cultures celebrated October 31 as a night when the departed souls came back to their earthly homes to visit their loved ones. Other cultures marked this day with remembrance of and praying for the dead.
Our contemporary Halloween has evolved from this a bit, but vestiges of the old traditions remain. At worst, people get a little spooked out that ghosts and gouls are out and about in the world that night.
But at its best, Halloween puts fear in its proper place.
I’ll never forget the night several years ago when during our church’s All Hallow’s Eve service (yes, we are Episcopalian so we have a service for everything), the priest asked the kids why we celebrate Halloween.
One of the boys gave an answer I’ll never forget:
We celebrate Halloween so we can laugh at fear.
This is so spot on. We can dress up in our scariest costumes and run around laughing because we know that death has no hold over us. There is a power much greater than this force that we can trust in and hold onto in our darkest days.
Because of this knowledge, we are free to laugh at fear in all its faces.
For our ultimate place in this universe now and in eternity is resting in the arms of Love.
What that looks like will change and transform over time, but it will always, always be true.
So whatever your tradition is for All Hallows Eve, may you have the grace tonight to laugh at fear. And know that today and in all your days Love is reigning over you. Winning you over death and darkness and difficulty.
And that is good news indeed.