Halloween has come and gone for 2019. I always break out in a small smile when that celebration is over. Why? Because at its best, Halloween has become a celebration of the mindless paganism our ancestors wisely turned their backs on. But now the best holidays are in front of us. And Friday was one you may have overlooked. The name Halloween comes from a shortening of All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day, which was Friday.
For centuries on All Saints’ Day the Church celebrated the lives of Christians who went before us. And rightly so: We can learn so much from those whom the author of Hebrews calls that great cloud of witnesses. This week, I came across a piece by the late Chuck Colson. I’ve highly edited for this space. I’m not this smart.
The tradition of remembering the Church triumphant dates back to the time of the first Christian martyrs. When soldiers of Marcus Aurelius Verus came to arrest Polycarp, a beloved church leader, Polycarp greeted them kindly. According to the third century historian Eusebius, Polycarp “ordered a table to be laid for them immediately, invited them to eat as much as they liked, asking in return a single hour in which he could pray.”
When Polycarp later stood in the coliseum, accused and surrounded by the jeering crowds, the governor pressed him to recant his faith. Instead, this man, who himself had been discipled by the Apostle John, said this: “For eighty-six years, I have been [Christ’s] servant, and He has never done me wrong: How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” As they were preparing to burn him alive, Polycarp offered up prayers of faith and praise.
In the years following Polycarp’s death, Christians would gather annually to take communion beside his grave. There they would remember his brave witness and take courage from his example.
As the years passed, the day shifted in focusing from remembering Polycarp to honoring all martyrs. By the seventh century, the Church created a holiday to honor all of God’s saints—heroes of the faith.
One of the heroes was a woman named Monica, who lived during the fourth century. She would never face flames or jeering crowds, as did Polycarp, but she did face testing. That testing came in the form of her own longing for the return of her prodigal son, Augustine. His immoral lifestyle made this Christian mother weep. Later, when Augustine, who is now known as one of the foremost theologians of Christianity and scholars of Western civilization, did come to Christ, he wrote this prayer: “My mother, Your faithful servant, wept to You for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than others shed for the bodily death of a son. You heard her.”
History reveals story after story like this, from Justin Martyr to Martin Luther to Amy Carmichael. But we have lost touch with those stories. Maybe you should do some research? Maybe you could get your kids excited about uncovering the heroes of the faith? Let me encourage you to do…something. Honor the great saints who set examples for us. Talk about the lives of Christian heroes.
Real heroism is found not in a costume, but in how we live our lives. How’s that going?