Tomorrow night is Halloween. Marking this night has changed over the years hasn’t it – when I was young, Halloween was an American thing, our focus was on Bonfire Night instead. But as they say, if America sneezes, we catch a cold, the shops have seen a chance to cash in, and so suddenly Halloween is big business here too.
I have mixed feelings about Halloween. I’m not a great fan of ‘trick or treating.’ It goes against everything we teach our children about behaving well, about not being selfish or seeking to get their own back if things don’t work out as they want them to. I’m also not sure about knocking on strangers’ doors, and worry about the impact on the vulnerable. Besides, as a Christian, I want to celebrate the light, not the darkness.
That said, perhaps there is something in this season about naming and confronting our fears and finding how to overcome them. Perhaps I should also own up to being a bit of a hypocrite and enjoying the odd ghost story too. There are even some in the Bible. The best known one is in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 14. The disciples are out on their boat and it’s dark, the Sun has not yet quite risen over the Sea of Galilee. You can imagine the scene, they are huddled up in the boat, mostly dozing perhaps with one or two keeping watching, when suddenly one raises the alarm. In the distance there’s something moving, a shadowy figure where there is no right for there to be anything, and it’s coming towards them. At first perhaps a hazy blur, but then it gets clearer, it’s a person, but it can’t be, it’s on the water – it must be a ghost!! They cry out. Grown men, screaming out in terror.
But then a voice comes across the waves. Don’t be scared, it is me.
Peter realises first, this is no ghost, this is Jesus. ‘If it’s really you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ The figure beckons him. Without hesitation Peter clambers over the side of the boat, and steps out. Amazingly he finds the water supports him. He too is able to walk across the waves. But he takes his eyes off Jesus, distracted by the tossing sea. He hesitates. Panics. And begins to sink.
‘Help!’ he cries. A prayer we all pray at some point in our lives. A hand grasps his arm. Jesus has come alongside him, lifting him gasping for breath, into the boat. ‘Why didn’t you trust me? I’m always there for you.’ Stunned by what they have just witnessed, the disciples worship him.
Now, I don’t know what your fears are, but I do know that in such dark moments, Jesus is with us. If we call out to him, he walks into our midst, takes by the arm, and lift us back into the boat.