At this time of year I normally get an urge to carve a pumpkin.
Something about the bright orange, the squishiness, the shapes you can make (mainly TEETH) and the fact you get to place a tea light inside…it’s all so glow-y and tactile and alluring. And of course, highly seasonal.
But sadly, as an empty nester, unless I’m making soup, a bright orange, fleshy, potential demon scaring extra large vegetable never crosses my threshold these days.
But I’m haunted this time of year.
I mean, not in the ghostly way, but haunted by wanting to mark the season with a THING to do, apart from, obviously, taking a service for All Saints, singing eight verses of For all the Saints (which we did this morning in church) and reciting the Apostles Creed, which references ‘the communion of saints’.
It’s the time of year when, as a Minister of Religion (and the Protestant one, at that) I find myself being mentally and emotionally swooshed along by the many liturgical/seasonal/theological/social currents around at the moment – and frankly, it feels like a confusion of radio signals – like when you can’t quite get the right frequency.
For starters, there’s the Church of England problem of Festivals that fall on days of the week that aren’t Sundays. So this year, the Sunday nearest “All Hallows” (aka All Saints) was today – so essentially we celebrated All Saints before the eve of All Saints.
As if that wasn’t enough, this was the year I realised that “Light Parties” (the Evangelical alternative to scary Hallowe’en) had morphed into “Super Hero” parties. From a theological/liturgical point of view, I’m wondering what this is, exactly – the saints were Super Heroes? Jesus likewise? Who knows?
In its infinite wisdom, the Church of England also sets 31 October (Halloween to everyone else) to honour Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation.
I can just see him looking down from on high (whether ‘in glory’ himself already, or, if you’ve read NT Wright, who’s grumpy on this issue, still waiting for glory) irritably tutting at what feels like to me, the somewhat confused explanations in “the C of E “Times and Seasons” of All Saints (1 November, and a “Principal Feast”) and All Souls (2 November and a mere “Commemoration”….)
…although perhaps this is an imagined confusion on my part: those of us who’ve inhabited the different ends of the C of E spectrum, both evangelical (largely disregarding All Souls) and the world of village church (candles and gentle remembering of those we’ve loved and lost, regardless of their Christian faith) can find themselves more confused than others…
Confused about that tension between the Catholic Saints ‘in glory’/plus souls ‘not quite there yet’ who need our prayers – and the much touted Reformation ‘priesthood of all believers’: “we’re all saints – ‘cos Paul said so”.
Most of these currents appear to be about Remembering. The Church frames this time liturgically as “All Saints to Advent”, but for everyone else, it could mean any of the following: Diwali (Hindu Festival of Lights); Bonfire Night; Armistice Day (11 November); fireworks any time from about 20 October till end of November; and putting up your Christmas Tree (not an exaggeration; spotted yesterday on my parish walk).
And seasonally, the clocks have gone back, with the yearly remembering that summer is over, winter on its way. For some this is a real threat – to mental and even physical health. The instinctive response, along with nostalgic conker collecting and leaf kicking, is to get cozy, switch on the fairy lights and snuggle up by the fire – or in these days of rising fuel costs, to put on an extra jumper and go to bed early.
We will, as a species, do anything to avoid darkness, death and decay – but one of the side effects of ageing, seems to be a growing realisation that you can’t.
Today I learnt of the untimely death of one of my former Church Wardens, and memories of working alongside them, over many years of fruitful ministry in that setting, came flooding back. What happens to the work we do? What happens to churches that are ‘declining’, when all the time the kingdom is breaking in?
We’re all heading in the same direction, but as pumpkins and super heroes (and even Martin Luther) remind us, the dark is kept at bay by the light; evil by the hope of deliverance, and death, although it comes, by the first fruits of resurrection.
Enjoy, if you can, your pumpkin.
Photo by Łukasz Nieścioruk on Unsplash