Tomorrow night is Halloween. Millions of children from all over the country will put on costumes and take on a new identity. They will go from house to house, or car trunk to car trunk ("trunk or treat"), or classroom to classroom with empty bags that fill up with candy as the evening goes along.
When our children were small, the joy of Halloween was all about the costume – and assuming an identity they could choose. Most kids have an idea of what they want to "be" by the beginning of October; our daughter began sorting through various identity possibilities well before the first day of school.
Clothing was a key image in our just-concluded clergy conference. Presenter Lauren Winner, a Professor at Duke Divinity School and an Episcopal priest, invited us to consider how God is the one who clothes: "And God made garments of skins for the man and his wife [Adam and Eve] and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). Clothing bespeaks the intimacy of God: "As many of you were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ" (Galatians 3:27).
In every culture, clothing communicates an identity, without using words. Often, clothing suggests a hierarchy. The fashion industry sells people on the idea that clothes reflect status and importance. But when we are clothed in Christ, hierarchical distinctions begin to fall away; and our attention is directed away from ourselves and toward the challenge to clothe others. As Lauren Winner put it, we are invited to participate in the choreography of divine action.
As clergy, we pondered how we currently participate in the choreography of divine action. We acknowledged the importance of choreography in the worship of the church, and how carefully designed choreography can open us up more fully to the grace, blessing and mercy of God. We also acknowledged that God is at work in the world, and that we are invited to join God there, and to develop a choreography of participation – which extends the grace, blessing and mercy of God.
I am looking forward to seeing excited kids parading through the neighborhood in costumes tomorrow night. The younger ones will eagerly tell me what they are, and will live into their one-night identity. And the next day, and for every day after that, we will all be invited to claim our sainthood, and be clothed in Christ – and in that life-giving identity join in the parade with God working in the world.
The Halloween costume parade is a recreation of a festival that is designed to tame the fear of death. The Christian parade in the world is a witness that participates in God's intention to foster life.
"The Next Day"
Thank you, Bishop, for a provocative and inspiring message about Halloween. (They are few and far between.) The whole interplay among costume, clothing and identity in religion and life repays much thought. But you saved the best for last: "the next day, and for every day after that, we will all be invited to slam our sainthood, and be clothed in Christ-- and in that life-giving identity join in the parade with God working in the world." That raises All Saints Day to its proper relationship with what has become one of the most extravagant and most widely observed "holidays" in the year.
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