The dead of night is a phrase with which any night worker can relate. As a long-time night shift cop, there was a certain sense of foreboding with the true concept of the dead of night. The stillness of the air, the quiet eerieness that seems to put the astute officer on edge are all part of the deeper meaning wrapped in the dead of night.
Euphemisms are often thought of as a way to smooth over another statement that is too harsh such as downsizing for firing employees. For our purposes here, it is best defined as a literary tool which enables the writer to convey a deeper meaning more than is possible with a simple statement. It is not necessarily negative. Perhaps it brings a picture to mind that helps elaborate on a message, to give the icy chill on the back of the neck to the reader or causes one’s temperature to rise with his heart beat. In any case, there is a definitive image which brings with it a clearer understanding of the writer’s intent.
The dead of winter evokes a special meaning for those of us who despise winter! It holds a different, peaceful, crystal white stillness for those who love it. In either respect, there is something in the phrase which brings out a fuller, deeper, wider grasp of the winter season.
In a seminary class, we read a study in church growth titled, New Life from a Dead Stump. The concept was formed from the picture of a small sprout for a new tree emerging slowly from the apparently dead stump of a fallen, diseased and dead tree. The analogy was the dead stump as the remains of a body of believers, a church which had fallen through sin or some other disease. The tree had been robbed of life. Now after time, a new, fresh life was beginning to grow from the midst of that dead stump.
A new chapter, or at least a long footnote, for world and American history has appeared in the form of COVID 19. It includes shuttered businesses, travel suspended, individuals and families sequestered in their homes while trying to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Week upon week many find the ends of their ropes begin to fray as they struggle with unpaid bills and curtailed income. Children, unable to attend school, find themselves shut inside while weather, particularly in the northern states, precludes much outdoor activity. This has led to a combination of house fever and sibling rash brought on by constant irritation.
Church organizations are finding new ways to fulfill the admonition by the Apostle Paul to not forsake the assembling of themselves together. A unforeseen advantage of this new decentraized concept of worship is the re-discovery for many that church is not the building or the organization, the 501c3, or the pastor and staff; but, the church is the universal body of believers who do assemble for corporate worship, training, teaching, communal prayer and the observation of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper when it is possible to congregate. However, the necessary abondoning of corporate gatherings has pushed the church to function as it was intended. Believers, led by the Spirit, are spreading the Good News of Christ in their daily lives. Living out the Gospel by caring for the sick, feeding the hungry and sharing the message of salvation has breathed life into the dead of church.
The first-century church in Jerusalem had become quite comfortable with their growth and glad times. Persecution forced it to spread new life in every direction as members of the church extended its reach to Judea, Samaria and the untermost parts of the earth.
My family is blessed to be part of a body of believers, a church, that defines its mission as making the most of Jesus to everyone, every day all the time and has developed a de-centralized ministry focus with MC’s (missional communities) which are small groups who gather for worship, Bible study and ministry. Other small groups gather by some other common denominator, all with the focus of living out the Gospel. Even so, the comfort of four walls and a Sunday routine have been replaced by live-streaming worship through social media resources. Every possible part of ministry has taken on new life forms. The dead of church (as a noun) is witnessing the re-birth of the church as an action verb.
For me, at times this mandated time of slowing has been less of a be still and know that I am God and more like an extension of an already long recovery from breaking my leg last October and surgery on the leg in February. Just when I should be ready to fly, my wings got clipped! Still, though, with time to quiet my inner self and count my blessings, I know I am far more blessed than I could ever deserve. I am cherishing the time I get to spend with family and I am learning to be still in the presence of God.
For many who may struggle to heed the be still command, God finds ways to intercede into our storms to calm the seas for us. Satan would like to declare our time in these days, the dead of church. May we take these daysto grow and trust God. Let’s remember well this passage by Paul to the church at Rome:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5 ESV (Emphasis added)
As I write this it is the Thursday before Good Friday. In my sanctified imagination (a term I’ve borrowed from a seminary professor), I see it now being about the time Jesus and the eleven are headed to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The Last Supper completed, Judas has gone to sell out the Savior. Jesus speaks of the growth of the branches attached to the true vine even as they ascend the Mount of Olives. I have had the honor of standing in that garden, along the hillside overlooking Jerusalem. I can picture the path they walked. May I never forget what love and devotion it took for my Savior to walk that path. May I never whine about my lot in life; but, rejoice in the grace by which I stand.