This coming Sunday is known by every child and comic strip in the United Sates as "Halloween," a rather peculiar holiday that celebrates ghosts and goblins, bats, witches and black cats, all of which have something to do with other scary stuff like graveyards and skeletons. Where do we get this stuff? Well, "halloween" is really short for "hallows eve," which itself is an abbreviated form of "all hallows eve." "All hallows eve" is the evening before "all hallows day," or "all saints day" as we would put it in modern English. Thus "hallows eve" has the serious purpose of preparing to celebrate the lives of those in the Christian community who have shown themselves to be exemplary in their faith and lives as Christians. Like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving Day, Halloween has a specifically Christian background.
The ghost and goblins got into Halloween because in later Medieval times, as people became more and more superstitious, the belief arose that since All Saints Day belongs to virtuous Christians, the evening before would be an opportunity for ghosts and goblins to romp around in order to make up for being losers the next day. Since evil is for many people more fun that virtue ("trick or treat"), we have ended up celebrating the goblins and forgetting about the saints. Wallah! Sunday is Halloween, but who ever heard of All Saints Day?
Now, there is a much larger and more important celebration on Oct. 31, because that is the day in 1517, on which Martin Luther, a German monk, preaching priest and college professor, started a movement that is the basis of virtually all the freedom, prosperity and security we enjoy as citizens of western Europe and the United States. October 31 was celebrated as "Reformation Day" by millions of Christians all over the western world until about 1960, when the United States Supreme Court decided that we ought to remove religion from our public life. However, Reformation Day still is celebrated in some nations.
Martin Luther had discovered in the Bible, as he was teaching the book of Romans to college students, that God deals with each human being on a personal level, saving us from our sins through personal faith in Jesus Christ as the one who died for our sins. Luther realized that this teaching set aside and short-circuited the teaching that man is related to God only through the dictatorship of the church and civil government (that ruled through the false teaching of "the divine right of kings").
Luther understood that this Bible teaching of salvation had much broader implications for all of life. From posting his "95 Theses" on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517, Luther progressed to writing a short blood on the "Freedom of the Christina Man, " in 1520. I am free, Luther taught, from the dictatorship of any man, even be he Pope or king. But I am at the same time the servant of every man, obligated to treat all men with love and righteousness, because I am God's servant, purchased from sin by the blood of Christ. This teaching of Luther found its way into our Declaration on Independence 250 years later in the phrase, "all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," a statement about freedom that is the foundation of American life. Reformation Day is worth celebrating; I'm not so sure about ghost and goblins.