You may recall Disney’s 1940 animated film Fantasia that included a fantastical rendering of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.”
When I think of Halloween, this is what I picture. Chernabog, the god of evil, rises in the night at the peak of Bald Mountain to summon all his minions in a frenzy of wickedness. Ghosts, demons, vultures, and all sorts of shadowy figures dance furiously under the leering gaze of the dark-winged god with sinister yellow eyes. Occasionally, he scoops up some of the demons and gleefully throws them into the mountain’s fiery pit. It’s a frantic festival of foul-play, completely unchecked and covering the mountain in unmitigated malevolence.
When I think of the last four years we have experienced in the United States, “Night on Bald Mountain” is what comes to my mind.
A self-proclaimed god of evil arose and summoned all his minions in a frenzy of wickedness. A rogue’s gallery of criminals have danced at his bidding, tearing babies from their mothers, inspiring domestic terrorists to prowl the streets, and stripping rights and protections from vulnerable people, the environment, and communities across the country.
Frequently, he plucks up one of the demons and gleefully throws them into the fiery pit, trashing them with a Tweet, and mocking them in a speech. Every possible commandment has been broken, every societal norm demolished, and the very Constitution itself viewed as nothing but an annoying piece of toilet paper on the underside of his shoe. The last four years have been a frantic festival of foul-play, completely unchecked and covering the country in unmitigated malevolence.
There is nothing but fear and dread on Bald Mountain.
No compassion, no mercy, no joy. It’s every demon for itself. They know their existence is only possible at the bidding of the one who called them forth. They do their best to stay out of his reach, but as the chaotic frenzy reaches a fevered pitch, Harpies fly above the demons, grabbing some of them and throwing them into the inferno. No one can be trusted on that mountain. And there seems to be no end in sight.
The last seven months have seen a frenzied crescendo in our country as well. Between people refusing to wear masks and protect each other from Covid, to militarized police killing civilians, to outright and blatant racism and fascist forces unleashing their terror, there seems to be no end in sight. The demons dancing around Chernabog do their best to stay out of his reach. But as the chaotic frenzy reached a fevered pitch in the Rose Garden to push through a Supreme Court nominee, many were tossed into the coronavirus inferno. No one can be trusted on that mountain. We wonder if we will survive this. Already, so many have suffered and died.
But there comes a moment in the film where a church bell chimes.
At first, Chernabog tries to ignore the sound and continue on his rampage. But the chime tolls again. He knows: dawn is coming. The demons cower and scramble to escape the rising sun. They scuttle into dark crevices like roaches when the light comes on. Chernabog cannot stop the light of the sun. He folds his wings around his body and molds himself into the mountain’s peak, silent and foreboding.
We hope, we wish, we pray that our Night on Bald Mountain is coming to an end on November 3rd. We hope, we wish, we pray, that the sun will rise on a calm scene the next morning with the dark mountain peak in the distance, at least for now, inactive. The dawning light will chase the demons away, we hope. They will scuttle into dark crevices like roaches when the light comes on, we wish. They will cower and scramble to escape the rising sun, we pray.
In the final scene of Fantasia, a long line of holy figures comes into view, their silhouettes processing through the darkness to usher in the dawn.
It reminds me of the scene described in the ancient book of Revelation:
There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)
This is the reading that accompanies the Christian holy day known as All Saints Sunday. Following All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day is a defiant repudiation of Halloween’s dismal and shadowy evil. We remember the saints who have died, the saints who have been born, and the saints who worship with us – even when separated by a pandemic, screens, and distance. We light candles, sing hymns, and ring chimes in honor of those who have died in the past year, as well as the babies who have been born. All the saints matter to God.
In Fantasia, each of the saints carries a golden light as they walk through a cathedral of trees arching across the pre-dawn sky glowing with the rising sun. In the background, Franz Schubert’s piece Ave Maria rises on angelic voices.
But here’s where the fantasy film and our real-world terror will likely part ways.
Chernabog will not just give a last bellow and fade into the mountain. This time, he has told us, he will do everything within his power to stay at his apex. He will send his minions to block out the sun so that he can retain his reign of corruption and evil. They have been told to “stand by.” So they wait, ready to create chaos through violence which he will use as an excuse to seize power and secure the mountain.
In the coming days and weeks, if Chernabog tries to seize the mountain, we need to hold the line.
As hate groups are increasing, a growing movement of citizens is pushing back and speaking out, including a group I helped co-found, the Clergy Emergency League. We need to insist that every voter matters, and every vote must be counted, no matter what seems to be happening on the evening of Nov. 3. The election is not about a single day. It’s about a season of waiting and vigilance that may take days, weeks, and even months.
But that waiting means the system is working, just as it has for nearly 250 years. The saints of God know how to be patient, how to wait on the goodness of the Lord.
In Revelation, John is asked who those saints are. The angel tells him:
“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
When we resist the evil of Chernabog, we must practice the nonviolent discipline of noncompliance. We must deny legitimacy if he attempts to seize the mountain with an illegitimate coup. We must practice non-cooperation with the dance of evil that swirls around us, trying to draw us in. And we must insist on shining the light of truth so that all evil intentions are revealed.
This is who we are – we are people who carry the light, even when the shroud of evil is pulled around us.
We are the beloved saints of God who believe in the dawn and wait patiently for the rising sun. We wait with active anticipation. Across the nation on Nov. 3 and into the morning of the 4th, clergy and people of faith will be holding prayer vigils. We’ll be lighting candles, singing hymns, reading scripture, and abiding with prayerful presence.
We will come together to help lead our communities through a time of uncertainty. We will call our neighbors to love each other. And we will condemn all forms of political violence following the election. We’ll insist that every vote be counted and that the government ensure a peaceful transfer of power if one is needed.
It is our shared duty to protect our democracy. We all want to make this country better. So this is an opportunity for us to move forward with fairness, dialogue, and respect.
We have the assurance of God’s presence. And we have faith that “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
With calm, patience, non-violent resistance, and justice, we can bring the horrific “Night on Bald Mountain” to an end.
[Read next: Resources for Clergy in the Election Season]
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; her opinions are her own. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is also the co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). Her latest book, co-written with Jerry Sumney is Apocalypse When?: A Guide to Interpreting and Preaching Apocalyptic Texts (Wipf & Stock, 2020).