Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 44:1-14
The tradition of All Saints Day, which we celebrate today, traces its history back to the sixth century. At that time Pope Boniface consecrated the infamous Pantheon at Rome to become a place for the solemn remembrance of Christian martyrs. So many hundreds and hundreds of Christians had been killed in the Pantheon before cheering spectators during the first three centuries of the church. Curiously, last night, Halloween – with its tricks or treats and costumes and fires – is connected to this holy day. The name “Halloween” comes from the Middle English halowen which means “hallowed” or “holy one.” And so Halloween is the evening before All Hallows Day, i.e., All Saints Day. Now hold that thought for a moment.
Why does “the Eve” – the evening before a significant day – matter? Why All Hallows Eve? (For that matter, why Christmas Eve?) The most important reason traces its way back to the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis. A new day begins in the evening, not in the morning. In the creation account, we read that “God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”i And then, “there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” And then, “there was evening and there was morning, the third day,” and so on. Did you catch that? Evening, then morning constitutes a day. If you and I were describing a full day, we would start with the morning, which then progresses to the evening. But that is not the chronology of the Genesis creation account. The day beginning with the evening is a practice still observed by both Muslims and Jews. For Muslims, Friday’s day of rest begins with sundown Thursday; for Jews, the sabbath day on Saturday begins with sundown on Friday. Here at the monastery, if you join us in the chapel for Saturday Evensong, we call this “The First Evensong of Sunday,” which are examples in the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions how the night belongs to the day that follows.