You probably thought you’d escaped. May 21st came and went and not one, single Old South minister stooped so low as to preach on the Rapture … not Liz, Jack, not Nancy … not even Quinn. You thought you were free and clear. You were wrong.
The way I figure it, a tardy Rapture permits of a tardy sermon on the Rapture.
I promise to spare you all the Rapture-bashing jokes … like the cartoon in which, on the morning of May 22, the morning-after, over coffee and breakfast, the husband, reading his newspaper, reports the news to his wife … “Darling, turns out it was just a RAPTOR.”
Or the doomsday minister who supposedly tweeted: “World not ending this week. Oprah is. My bad. Sorry.”
Or Mayor Bloomberg’s comment about the upshot of the Rapture for New Yorkers, “If the world does end tomorrow,” said the mayor, “we will suspend alternate side parking.”
The truth is that the jokes and humor that accompanied the latest doomsday prediction, accompany all doomsday predictions. Not only because such predictions are silly and laughable—they are—but also because all the jokes enable a kind of nervous release … Because, when all is said and done, when the Endtime-Deadlines have loomed, arrived and passed … we humans can’t help but wonder about the end. THE END, and THE ENDING do and matter.
After all, we are intensely interested in the beginning … in the marvelous, sweeping stories from Genesis … in the compelling image of the Big Bang … in the arguments over Creationism, evolution and Intelligent Design. The question of the beginning of all things Is at heart a central existential question—a contested question—about purpose and meaning.
To ask about the beginning is to ask: is life as we know it a vast, haphazard accident … or is it intended? Inadvertent or deliberate? Is it the product of some sort of reverse-spontaneous-combustion or has it all been planned, right out down to the lady bug’s perfect black dots?
The very same questions that challenge and vex us about the beginning apply to the ending: will the end, when it comes, be some vast, cosmic accident? Will it end as a consequence of ecological genocide or homosapien mass suicide … some climatic cataclysm? Or, will there be some larger, greater purpose in it? Womething redeeming? Is Something or Someone in charge? If so, is that Someone or Something good, or bad. Or worse yet, utterly indifferent to our predicament and fate?
Today and this past Thursday Christians across the world are celebrating Ascension Day … we all reading the story of Jesus’ so-called ascension into heaven.
The Ascension is like a mini-one-man-Rapture. Right before the disciples’ eyes, Jesus begins to rise, to levitate, to ascend and disappear into heaven. It is an odd image, to be sure, but there it is.
Like some Candid Camera skit, we are watching the disciples who are caught in the act of staring up at the disappearing Jesus, gaping skyward, their jaws dropping, their eyes popping. Caught in the act of scratching their heads, they ask, What just happened? Where’d he go? What can this mean?
In the end, despite all our endless speculation, despite our best philosophers, our finest theologians and our brightest scientific minds … the only meaning about which we have any certitude is the meaning of here, the meaning of now.
So it is that the wise, white-robed ones, the angels, draw the attention of the disciples away from the sky and the clouds … away from this mini- Rapture and the major-Apocalypse, away from the disappearing Jesus …and back down to earth … to each other … to community ... which, biblically speaking, is the best place to invest our time and attention.
What can be said about Harold Camping? What can be said about the Doomsdayer who, as we all learned on May 22, was at least five months off?
Here’s my take on it. Just as unpleasant flora and fauna serve a purpose in the context of a vast ecosystem, I suspect that unpleasant Doomsdayers serve a purpose in the sprawling spiritual ecosystem we inhabit.
I think of it this way … The Doomsdayer is like the flightless Kiwi bird. He reminds us that despite all our feathered-finery, despite space shuttles and moon-shots, we are clay-footed, terrestrial creatures, incapable of peering into the heavens.
Or, think of it this way … The Doomsdayer is like a mosquito in your bed room at night. It whines, bites and bothers. It gives us something to swat at and talk about the next day. It reminds us we are alive enough to bleed, and this: it reminds us of just how infinitesimal and ephemeral we are against the vast stretches of time and space.
Or, this … the Doomsdayer is like a snake let loose on the subway. Not only does it succeed in getting complete strangers talking to each other … (not such a bad thing!) it also gets us laughing together, even in the face of our genuine fears.
I suppose it is possible that existence as we know it will go on, and on and on, in endless perpetuity. But, it’s not likely. Sometime, somehow, it will come to an end. Until then, the words of the wise, white robed ones are still timely today: Why are you looking up toward heaven? Your life is here, now, in this city, among these people, on this earth. The way to prepare for the end … your end or the end of it all … it is right here, right now… right in front of your nose. Get on with it.