Why The Stories In 'The Midnight Club' Are SO GOOD | Nerdy Sermon [Mild Spoilers]
Whenever the weather starts to get cold, I begin to anticipate what Mike Flanagan will do next. But I wasn't so sure whenever I learned his next show was about terminal children in a hospice center.
Nevertheless, I gave the midnight club a chance, and I'm glad I did because it might just be one of my favorite examples of why our Christian testimony is so important. If you're a fan of when Mike Flanagan talks about faith in a way that accidentally really is an excellent example of faith, then this is the perfect show for you.
What does a horror show about terminally ill children in a miraculous hospice center have to do with our conversations and stories as Christians? Let's talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and apparently, it’s cool to sneak off to the library at midnight, but when I read books at midnight, I’m the ‘weird kid.’ I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
John 15:18-27 (NRSVue)
Reader: Xando (Matt Alexander)
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Slaves are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’ “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.
What is the Midnight Club?
This is the latest in the Mike Flanagan Universe - Flanaverse? On Netflix, including others such as the Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor, and last year’s viral Midnight Mass, which we had a sermon on last year.
Since discovering him, I’ve been a die-hard fan and was incredibly excited about this latest project.
Until I heard the subject.
Based on a book of the same name, Flanagan’s Midnight Club was set to cover the mystery around the Brightcliffe Hospice - yes, hospice - for children - yes, children.
So, given my love of Flanagan’s gore, brutal deaths, and terrifying hauntings, I wasn’t super excited to see children being haunted, let alone terminal ones.
I was skeptical but trusted Flanagan knew what he was doing.
And only one episode in, I realized that this was not your usual horror show. In fact, it wasn’t really a horror show at all.
It was more of a drama and a mystery.
The show follows Ilonka, a young girl who is diagnosed with cancer and later found to be terminal. She does research and discovers the Brightcliffe Hospice, known for providing excellent in-home care for children like her but secretly known for a spotty history of healing patients miraculously under previous ownership.
Determined to find some way to survive, Ilonka convinces her foster father to let her live out the rest of her days there while secretly hoping to discover something more.
When she arrives, she meets her fellow housemates, a delightful modge podge of fantastic characters with charming backstories and lovable personalities - well, most of them, anyway.
During her first night stay, ilonka hears her roommate leave around midnight and follows to discover that the other kids are sneaking to the library at night to tell fantastic and horrific stories to one another as members of the titular Midnight Club.
ilonka joins their ranks and learns that their ultimate goal is to prove the existence of the afterlife. They make an oath upon entering that whoever dies first will cause some noticeable disturbance and haunt those remaining as a sign that something better exists after death.
As if that isn’t sad enough, it becomes pretty clear that all of the stories that they tell are echoes of their deepest feelings and fears personified in the act of horror storytelling.
In this way, the show has several running threads at once, containing multiple anthologies through the stories told by the midnight club, the history of the Midnight Club and Brightcliffe Hospice, and Ilonka’s mission to find out more about the miracle of decades prior.
It’s a great show, and I haven’t heard nearly enough about it, and it makes me crazy nervous that it won’t get a season 2, so if you could spam that on Netflix for the next weeks, that’d be great.
But what stood out most to me in this show was the method and importance of storytelling itself.
As I mentioned a moment ago, each of the horror stories serves more than just the purpose of allowing Flanagan to flex his horror and disturbing imagery muscles; they are also parallels of the psyche of each of the members of the Midnight Club.
For instance, Anya, Ilonka’s sassy roommate, tells the story of the Two Danas, where a young girl Dana is cursed by the devil with the power to split herself into two versions of herself so that she can live two lives. One where she is perfect and gets to be the dancer she always dreamt of being, whereas the other gets to party and live the wild, reckless life she envies. The catch is that they physically experience whatever the other is experiencing, leading to the Good Dana being intoxicated on her big dance recital date or enduring withdrawal from harder drugs.
We later learn that Anya was a dancer. And that the guy who is concerned for Good Dana and expresses so much care for her is based on a natural person that she wishes she could be closer to but pushes away because of her disease.
Each story, one by one, borrows elements from a real-life character to tell a more profound fear in the storyteller's life.
This is just plain good storytelling, but even more importantly, it leads to a greater understanding of our lives as Christians and why our stories are so important.
In the passage for this video, we looked at a conversation between Jesus and the Disciples before Jesus ascended into heaven and left them to do the work of building the early church.
Jesus explains that this will not make them famous, more like downright hated, just as Jesus was hated.
This is because it isn’t the goal to belong to the world; instead, it is to do the hard work that Jesus started. We are called to serve Jesus and live the same life he lives on earth, and that was a life of persecution and hate.
Jesus even says that this hatred is without cause; it’s just the way it is.
I imagine the disciples were looking pretty freaked out about this whole hatred, and maybe you are too if you’re listening to this and thinking I don’t want to be hated.
So Jesus explained to them that, though he might be leaving, there would be an Advocate who would come to dwell among us, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth sent directly unto us from God.
Well, the work of this Spirit is two-fold.
First, the Spirit will work in the hearts of those who hate Jesus and, ergo, hate us. It will do this by testifying to the truth of God before they ever meet us. In methodist, we call this prevenient grace.
But that doesn’t put us off the hook. Jesus says that the disciples are also to testify. Why? Because you have been with me from the beginning. In other words - you know me, so you get to share me.
Jesus needs the disciples' testimony to continue sharing the message with those who haven’t gotten the chance to know Jesus yet.
Well - guess what? We’re still called to this same standard. We are called to by the testimony of Jesus to the world.
What else do we know about Jesus? Well, Jesus is God. And we’re made in the image of God. We are reflections of God. And when we own that relationship with Jesus and accept him as our savior, an even greater thing happens - we become one and whole again. Not perfect yet - but on our way toward perfection.
This means that we become an echo of the greatest story ever told. We become a testimony of what Jesus is doing. There are elements of my life and every Christian life that echo the story of Jesus. And Jesus compels us to tell that story to those not yet in the faith.
We call this testimony.
This is a crazy popular Christianese word, but maybe it’s one you’re unfamiliar with or one that makes you uncomfortable because of how more toxic churches have misused it.
Ultimately, it is precisely what the kids in Midnight Club are doing, only it’s not fiction, and it’s (hopefully) not horror. Jesus had a story to tell, a message to share, and when it was his turn to stand at the Midnight Club table and share, he started to tell the story, but it was all about you. It was the goodness you’ve seen. The kindness you’ve shared. The life you’ve lived and those that you’ve met. You are Jesus’ story. Every person entering into that relationship becomes another echo of Jesus in this earthly existence.
Your story is important, needed, valid, and deserves to be heard - no, it MUST be heard. Jesus needs you to testify because someone is waiting to listen to your message, your life, and your instance of Jesus in the world.
This is our testimony. It could be as simple as a hardship you’ve overcome. It could be as challenging as trauma recovery. The way our testimony forms is different for everyone because everyone might need another thing to latch onto to find Jesus is a perfect fit for them.
So what does this mean for us today? What can we do with this testimony?
We take the stand just like the kids from midnight club. Maybe we find the right group in the right spot and tell our story. Perhaps we start with just one good person who will listen to and love us. But we have to start telling the story. Your testimony and your relationship with Jesus are important.
If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, then this might be a chance to ask people you know to share their testimony with them if they’re ready. So often we talk about Jesus, but we’re rarely given a chance to actually share WHY Jesus matters to us. Ask them, and maybe you’ll discover a Jesus you didn’t get to see through others.
Most importantly, know that this may be a calling, but it’s not on your shoulders. The Holy Spirit has already started the work, and we don’t do the saving. It’s not on you to save souls or compete to see how many people can hear your testimony. It’s about genuinely sharing your story when it’s time to tell it.
This is just the bare bones of what I could talk about in this show - there is so much goodness. One topic I took on on Rethink Church will be linked below on how The Midnight Club accidentally is about Communion, it’s just so good, and I hate it’s being slept on.
Regardless, whether you’re just trying to survive (Ilonka), lashing out to find something to hold onto (Anya), or just trying to avoid making a tough decision (Kevin), know that you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church.