“And they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight
[actually, in this case, 3:13 AM!] the cry rang out” (Mat 25:5,6).
Early on Friday morning, at Bible school — in the dead of night…
A persistent, loud (very, very loud — to tell the truth) ringing… and the hand reaches instinctively for the clock alarm. But, no, that’s not it! The sound is coming from outside our door. Barbara is stirring: “Can’t you turn that thing off?” “No, sorry, not this time! It’s not in here; it’s out there!”
By now there are voices, and comings and goings. Peek out the door; there are familiar faces, and puzzled (worried?) looks. Folks are heading for the exits. It’s a fire alarm!
Okay, George, pull yourself together — no need to be quiet; everybody is getting up. We’d better get outside. Right, but not before I put something else on: some pants, socks, and shoes. That’ll do. Barbara is pulling her robe and slippers on.
One minute, and now we’re ready to go. Hold on! Should I take anything? Let’s see: grab the wallet (cash, credit card). Take a room key? No, that’s silly. And then a thought: what if it’s real? Should I take my laptop? It has all my Bible notes on it. “No, no need. After all, didn’t brother David just tell us yesterday that the word of God ought to be written in our hearts and minds, not just in our fancy laptops, with multiple translations and commentaries. That’s right; just leave the computer and let’s go.”
Outside. What a sight! Gary with his blanket wrapped around him, and a serious all-business look (must be his old military training): “We all need to get out of the building!” Right, Gary, we’re going. And the nighttime attire of our brothers and sisters: quite a spectrum. (Nice pajamas, Paul.) Betty, fully dressed: “I’m not running around in MY nightgown!” I didn’t know any ladies could dress that fast.
[Old Groucho Marx joke: “I went on a safari and shot an elephant in my pajamas…” (Pause, little more pause… don’t rush it…) “How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know!” ]
Down in the office, some resourceful folks are looking about — checking breaker switches and the like. Larry manages to get the alarm turned off. But now, where are the security people, the police, the fire department? Nothing.
Someone mentions that this happened a few years ago. I wasn’t here; I don’t remember. Did anyone come? No. A guess: the emergency exits may only trigger the internal alarm — without calling the security people or fire department.
A quick check through the whole building shows nothing amiss. We should all just go back to bed. Nobody came; no smoke, no fire anywhere. Nothing out of the ordinary. Okay, folks, back to your rooms; a chance for a bit more sleep before the alarms start going off for real. Dutifully, most of us trudge back to our rooms. A few sleepy-heads come straggling out into the hallway, finally waking up after 30 minutes of commotion in the hallways. “Hmm… What’s happening? Oh, okay, back to bed!” Other sleepers seem never to have woken up in the first place. Or maybe they just never bothered to get out of bed. ‘Been there, done that before. Wake me up later!’
Fred says he spent a few days in a hotel — where was it, Fred? I can’t remember — where the alarms went off every night, in the middle of the night, almost like clockwork. Get up, all march out of the hotel, wait around a bit, and all march back in again.
So, what do we learn?
For one thing, we weren’t really prepared for this. There are evacuation plans on the backs of our doors: did we follow the procedures? Well, not fully, and not all of us, but we did try — more or less. We could be better prepared, that’s for sure. But some of us seemed to know what we were doing, and the rest of us did as we were told.
I found Jonathan — also on the Bible school committee — and, even at 3:30 AM, I reverted to form, and began reminding him of things he needed to announce tonight, after the evening program. Couldn’t remember: there was something else I was going to mention to him, and then I started laughing: ‘Come on, George. It’s practically the middle of the night; this could probably wait a few hours.’
And, by the way, where was Stan the night patrol brother? There we were — a hundred of us, more or less — all breaking curfew, and no Stan! He’s probably still in bed!
And as I go back to bed, but not really to sleep, some…
When the REAL “midnight cry” comes, will we awake from our slumber with clear heads? Will our actions, then, reveal who — and what — we really are? Will we sleep right through the warning cries? Will we run around at the last minute, trying to prepare ourselves when it is too late? Will we (George, pay attention to this one) start thinking about which of our possessions we need to take with us, when we answer the “call“? Or will we remember, and remind ourselves — THEN — that it will be, really, too late… and all our possessions (money, checkbooks, even the treasured laptop computer with all its Bible notes) will have lost ALL their value? Because the last “midnight cry” will mean we are going to be taken into the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and nothing we take with us, not even the clothes (or pajamas) on our backs, will make any difference — only the characters we have developed over the years, and the faith we have held on to, and the love we have for God and for one another… those are the things we take into the presence of the Great Judge.
When the very last “alarm” sounds — whether we are asleep in our beds, or at work or school or Bible class, or somewhere else — will we go forth to meet Jesus, with joy in our hearts, or with fear or foreboding? Will we leave behind all of this life, and all of its trappings and “stuff“, without a backward glance? Or will we, like Lot’s wife, look back, too long and too lovingly, and be turned into a pillar of salt in the conflagration that engulfs the world?
“The Bridegroom is arising,
And soon he draweth nigh;
Up! Pray, and watch, and wrestle;
At midnight comes the cry.
“The watchers in the mountain
Proclaim the Bridegroom near;
Go meet him as he cometh,
With joy and not with fear.”