On Halloween I am sometimes asked if I believe in ghosts. While accepting that there are “more things in heaven and earth” than Richard Dawkins finds tolerable, I have no strong commitment either way. There is some evidence for something, but it is not obvious what that something is.
Are ghosts demonic manifestations? Tricks of light? The dead stuck in some purgative experience?
I don’t know, but I do know this. Christianity has never been afraid of the dead. In my homeland of West Virginia many a country church is near a graveyard. Families can arrive at the church to hear the Gospel while passing by those family members who have “gone before.” We were not afraid of the dead, we honor them, and I remember family picnics held in lovely old grave yards.
My Dad would comment that there would be no more exciting place if we happened to pick the moment of the Second Coming for our family picnic. He was being funny, but it was a warm thought. The trump would sound and the dead would rise! That was a happy thought for Christians and not a sad one.
When I visit Papaw’s grave, I am in a place where the next big event will be glorious.
Funerals were sad when I was growing up, but also hopeful. “Her next waking thought will be with Jesus . . .” the pastor would say and so while we mourned for our loss, we rejoiced in her gain. We could honor the corpse, because it had once housed her soul and would do so again!
I love to go to the ancient churches of Europe and see the graves, some even open, of the faithful. Some have a warning on them to remind me that they are what I will be. This is a good warning and one that gets easier to believe the older I get. The Church that was born in the catacombs learned to love old bones knowing living tyrants are more fearful than the dead.
On the Eve of All Saints I do not fear the dead, but wish to follow the holy examples many of them have set. I long to emulate the political courage of Good Duke Wenceslaus, the boldness of John Chrysostom, the passion of blessed Lucy, and the plain faith of my holy grandmothers.
I rejoice that some sweet day: “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend”even so it is well with my soul!