My waitress makes a simple and oft-spoken comment this time of the year: “Can you believe how much Halloween costumes cost nowadays?” In that statement, I am reminded of the masks we wear and how much it costs us to wear them.
Most observers of Halloween see it as the Devil’s night; however, it is actually a holiday with rich religious origins. The “Hallow” in Halloween comes from the same root as “Hallowed be Thy Name.” Halloween is the day before the traditional Christian celebration known as All Saints’ Day. It was intended to be a “hallow(ed) e’en.”
Our tradition of ghosts and trick‑or‑treating comes from Celtic beliefs. The Celts believed the souls of the departed roamed the earth one night in the fall. Since it was a time of harvest, the people would huddle together in front of fires, eating, and telling stories, so Halloween evolved into a celebration of witches and ghouls and fiends far removed from All Saints’ Day.
My recent scripture reading in the Gospels has unearthed Jesus’ encounter with those experienced in costumes and masks. We know them as the Pharisees and Jesus’ indictment was as scarey as any Halloween night monster. In a world of “tricks and treats,” they would definitely land on the “tricks” side of life. Jesus instructs us not to do as they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matthew 23:1-12).
In an interview in the magazine The Door, famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck tells about the first time he went to hear the Swiss physician Paul Tournier, one of the most influential Christians in the world. Following Tournier’s lecture there was a time of dialogue where a man asked, “Dr. Tournier, what do you think about all the hypocrites in the churches of America?”
Stumbling over the English words, Tournier apologized and said he did not understand the word “hypocrite.” Several people offered definitions. “Phony, pretending to be something that they’re not, unauthentic, false.” Suddenly the doctor’s eyes lit up. “Ah, hypocrites, now I understand … C’est moi! C’est moi. I am the hypocrite.”
Ouch! Just when I was hitting my preaching stride about the masks of the Pharisees, a famed and educated man took off his mask and invited me to do the same. It was then that I realized “again for the first time” just how much it costs me to wear my mask. It betrays the truth, it confuses my friends, and most of all, it disappoints God.
To answer my waitress, “yes, I can believe how much it costs to wear a mask nowadays.” It cost me more than I can pay and pays me nothing in return. So, this “Hallow’s Eve,” would you join me in declaring your “treat to be free from the trick” of wearing yet another mask?