Maybe by the time you read this, the threat of major snowfall in your community will have passed. And if you live in Derry, New Hampshire, maybe your city workers have resumed digging graves.
Derry town administrator Jack Anderson told reporters February 7 the Forest Hills Cemetery would probably be closed for four weeks, its frozen acres buried under too much ice and snow to make digging new graves possible.
This is because the gravediggers in Derry also drive the small town’s snowplows. And, given the onslaught of this winter’s storms, there just wasn’t manpower to do both tasks. “It’s more important that we have our roads and sidewalks open than our cemeteries,” Anderson said in a report posted at CNN.com.
CNN interviewed one senior citizen distraught because the cemetery’s closing meant he could not make his usual daily visits to his wife’s grave. But most would agree that Anderson had made the right decision. Given the choice between supporting the living or remembering the dead, which of us wouldn’t choose the former? When it comes to a city’s survival, the focus is always on life.
Would that it were equally true with the church. Most of us have heard about dying churches—consumed with tradition, discouraged by sin, or distracted by ego. Too many of us have dealt with church leaders suffocating spiritual life with their pursuit of power or position.
But we’re likely to assert that “dead church” describes some congregation or church body besides our own. We cluck our tongues at denominations authorizing or patronizing some sin. We criticize ritual or hierarchy or false doctrine. But we may forget that death, like life, takes many forms.
We all remember “faith without works is dead,” but we haven’t always acknowledged that activity by itself doesn’t prove life. (Chickens flap and flutter after their heads have been cut off. Hair continues to grow in the grave.) The angel to the church in Sardis said, “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Such a verdict gives pause to the church leader whose solution to every problem is another program. It’s a caution to every advocate of service that doesn’t connect people to the only source of real life, Jesus himself.
The New Hampshire town administrator chose to protect life by opening the roads to homes and workplaces and grocery stores. What good is a community with clear paths to gravestones but no way to earn a living or buy food?
Jesus came to bring life, “life to the full” (John 10:10). And any path that leads away from him is as futile as unplowed roads through a snow-covered landscape.