Haunted

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It is the time of year when the weather turns colder, and the night comes earlier, and the shadows grow longer.

It is the time of year when we notice that the doors we thought were closed are sometimes open, that there’s a cold patch in that corner of our house, and that we sometimes hear footsteps in the hallway when we are tucked safely and snuggly in our beds.

It is the time of year when we put on masks to protect ourselves from spirits that we cannot see. It is the time of year when we remember the dead. It is the time of year when, maybe, in their sleep, the dead remember us.

It is the time of year when—if we’re a little less rational and a little more sensible—we notice that the curtain between life and death is… thin. When we notice that we are haunted.

It is the time of year when we tell ghost stories. Ghost stories aren’t just stories about ghosts; they are stories where that curtain between life and death is thin. And this is a story where that curtain is thin… where life and death are intertwined.

We start in a crumbling kingdom…

The descendants of Abraham, the descendants of Isaac, the descendants of Jacob—the twelve tribes who the Lord led out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and into a land of milk and honey—have fallen apart.

Once, they had lived united in one kingdom, under one king, worshipping the one God. Then, the kingdom split: the northern kingdom of Israel (with its capital in Samaria) and the southern kingdom of Judah (with its capital in Jerusalem). And the kings and people of Israel turned away from the Lord. 

And then, Ahab became the king of Israel. He built an altar to another god. He built a temple to another god. He led the people to follow another god.

And so the Lord came to Elijah, and sent him to Ahab, the king of Israel, with a message. And then the Lord sent Elijah to a widow… in Zerephath.

So Elijah comes to Zerephath and sees the widow gathering sticks. So he calls to her, “You! The woman gathering sticks!” And he makes demands of her, “Bring me some water. And bring me some bread.”

And the widow sees him, and knows that he is a man of God, and replies to him, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have any bread. I do not have any bread. I have a little bit of meal and a little bit of oil. Just a little bit. Not enough. Nowhere near enough. I am gathering these sticks for my oven. Then I’ll go home, and make a little bit of cake for me and for my son. A little bit. Not enough. Nowhere near enough. And then, as the Lord your God lives, we will die.”

And Elijah says, “Okay… but first—before you make your cake and die—can you make a little cake for me? Because the Lord says that you’ll have enough meal and enough oil.  In fact, you won’t run out of meal or oil until it rains again… and I just declared a drought in Israel.”

And so, in the midst of planning to die, the widow goes home. And she looks at her son, and she looks at her hands, and she touches her face, and she remembers her husband, and she thinks about what is going to happen. She will make a little cake. And then she and her son and sleep… and just keep sleeping.

She puts the wood in the firebox and heats the oven. She takes a little meal and a little oil. She mixes it together and pats it into a little cake. And as she sets it on the stovetop to cook, she notices… she sees that there is still meal in the jar and still oil in the jug.

So she makes another one… and another one… and another one… and the meal doesn’t run out… and the oil doesn’t run out. There is enough and more than enough. So she takes a cake to Elijah, and Elijah eats. And she gives a cake to her son, and he eats. And she takes a cake to the table, and thinks about what was going to happen, and she eats.

There is enough and more than enough. For days and days and days. It’s a miracle.

And then her son sleeps… and just keeps sleeping. So the widow goes to Elijah.

“What did you bring me?” She asks, “What did I do, that you brought the Lord here to my house, and my son died?”

So Elijah calls out to the Lord. And the Lord hears Elijah and breathes life back into the widow’s son. And Elijah brings him to his mother. And I don’t know if the widow is full of joy… or terror… or a little bit of both, when she says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

This is a ghost story. This is a story where the curtain between life and death is thin… where life and death are intertwined. And it is a story about how, in the midst of this, God chooses life. In the midst of this, God steers things towards life.

It is the time of year when the weather turns colder, and the night comes earlier, and the shadows grow longer.

It is the time of year when—if we’re a little less rational and a little more sensible—we notice that the curtain between life and death is… thin. When we notice that we are haunted. And so we celebrate allhallowtide: Halloween, and All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. We remember the dead.

We remember the dead because that curtain is thin, and, in many ways, the dead are still with us. I still see traces in the world: traces of my family members and friends and mentors who are sleeping. In songs and smells; in turns of phrase and in gestures. I’m sure that you do, too.

We remember the dead now because we always remember the dead… and because, somewhere deep inside of us, we know that the curtain is thin, that life and death are never far apart, and that life and death are intertwined.

And we remember the dead because we have hope. We are Christians, and we are not shy about death. The story that we tell—the story at the center of our faith—includes death. And not just any death, but the death of the God who creates and sustains the cosmos, and who came into the world as one of us.

But the story that we tell does not end with death. God chooses life. God restores to life. God resurrects. And the God who came into the world as one of us—the God who we hung on a cross and buried in a tomb—rises.

And here’s the part of the story that we so often forget. Here’s the part of the story that we only tell at funerals… and in this haunted season: Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection, the return to life, the manifestation of abundant life.

There will be a day when we are reunited with our family members and friends and mentors and everyone else… not in death, but in life. There will be a day when God will wake them up… when God will wake us up. And we will all be together in the presence of the Lord our God.

Who has lived and who has died and who lives again. Who tears down the curtain. Who fills the world with life and with new life.

And in this season when the shadows grow long… in the middle of this season when we wear masks to protect ourselves and our friends and our neighbors… in the middle of this allhallowtide… this two-thousand-and-twenty… that is a story that is worth remembering and retelling.

We remember the dead because we are haunted… by hope. Hallelujah. Amen.

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I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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