Halloween has come and gone for 2014. I confess that I don’t understand the dark fascination with death that comes with the season. I’ve been in seasonal Halloween-themed stores; as you’d expect, you can find everything you need to dress up as a pirate or princess, a cowboy or superhero. But death is by far the more dominant theme in the store decorations, particularly if count the “living dead.” Frankly, dressing up as a zombie is not my idea of a fun evening.
But then again, stuffing myself full of candy isn’t as much fun as it used to be either.
I’m glad that local churches provide alternative celebrations for the children in their communities. Some churches call them a “Harvest Festival,” which might sound a little quaint to a city-dweller. But the concept of harvest has rich biblical associations, evoking themes of thanksgiving for God’s providence.
The harvest even provides Paul with the background imagery needed to talk about resurrection.
Some members of the Corinthian church, apparently, were having problems dealing with the fact that some of their number had “fallen asleep” or died. Discouraged or disillusioned, they began to discount the teaching of a future bodily resurrection of the faithful. Part of the confusion may have been that many Jews, although they believed in resurrection, also believed that all the departed faithful would rise together to join the Messiah in the restored kingdom of Israel. How were those who believed Jesus to be the Messiah to understand that God had raised only one man, the Messiah himself, while believers continued to die and be buried?
Paul writes, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Cor 15:20, NRSV). The notion of “first fruits” goes all the way back to the night of the Passover, when in the final miraculous plague against Egypt, God struck down the firstborn children and animals in every Egyptian household, passing over the homes of the Israelites. The people were instructed to commemorate the Passover every year thereafter, and to consecrate their own firstborn male child or animal to God (Exod 12:1-13:16). Other similar ordinances and celebrations would follow, in which the Israelites would bring a tithe of the grain and fruit harvests — the “first fruits” — to celebrate God’s providential goodness.
In the face of the seeming finality of death, the resurrection of Jesus is given as the first fruits; we are meant to celebrate, in anticipation, a rich harvest of life to be bestowed by a generous God. In that sense, the “harvest festival” isn’t limited to Halloween, Thanksgiving, or even Easter; for death never takes a holiday, and neither should our celebration of resurrection.