Coverage of the Rapture have run the gamut. I like this one from the NY Post: Some in NYC have made …preparations. "People are selling their possessions. It's crazy, said Sasha Jackson, of Manhattan. The fanatics are creating pandemonium. Does the church have a plan for when this all falls through?"
The reporter continued: The massive citywide ad campaign claiming that today was the end of the world prompted opportunists to take to Craigslist to try to score real estate from those anticipating they'd be in heaven by tonight. One listing read: "If you're someone who will be saved and you live in a higher end apartment in one of the more desirable neighborhoods in Brooklyn, I'd be interested in subletting until your return," concluding, "Please, no studios."
Not so funny, however, is the consequence for those followers of Harold Camping who took him seriously, and did sell all they had. Many timed the give away or spending sprees to the positively-for-sure-date of May 21st. “The Bible Guarantees it,” is says on Camping’s website. People gave up jobs. Some left spouses destitute, who themselves didn’t believe in it. People dropped out of college in anticipation of the end. “There’s no Plan B,” Camping said! But while his followers are left deluged with bills to pay, he sits high and dry, no pun intended.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk,” says Peter, “so that by it you may grow into salvation…” And so our second reading today describes a much longer view of the Christian faith. We all start out as newborn infants in Christ, and as we become followers, growing spiritually, we enter into salvation, that comes from God alone.
Every biblical scholar who was asked about Harold Camping’s prediction quoted the words of Jesus from Matthew 24:36: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." They might also have read from Peter’s 2nd Letter, which addresses anxieties about the 2nd coming: “do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Turns out Camping used this in his, now faulty, calculations, claiming one day equals 1,000 years. Of course Peter employs a simile, not a mathematical equation. Peter said it’s “like” that, comparing how differently we think and experience life, to God’s experience. But Camping, who admittedly is very interested in numerology, takes it as literal. Or as one blogger said: “While Camping [who is a civil engineer by training] might be good with numerical calculations regarding zoning grids or traffic algorithms, his ability to read and understand the Bible is sorely lacking.”
On Friday, I caught a part of a cable TV show devoted to the whole phenomenon, and suddenly there was my N.T. professor from seminary, Barbara Rossing, being interviewed. She of course, wrote a book called “The Rapture Exposed,” which has become the standard in debunking this peculiarly American past-time of fixing dates for the end of the world. Harold Camping already apologized for his first prediction of the Rapture on September 6, 1994. In her book, Professor Rossing helps us understand in two ways. First she takes us through the flawed rapture theology of John Nelson Darby, who in the 1800’s created this warrantless theory that Camping follows. But secondly, Rossing beautifully illuminates the books of Revelation and Daniel, as texts of hopefulness for believers in very trying times. When believers were under threat from political powers of the times, they used this Apocalyptic language to describe the embattled position they found themselves in. And in the end it turns out God’s promise is not to rapture us up and destroy the earth, but to come down and redeem the whole of God’s creation.
This is the faith and belief that grounds us in the hope of a better day, a better future, one in which we are invited to participate as “”God’s chosen [ones], a royal priesthood, [and] holy nation,” to use Peter’s words again. We are called to be “living stones,” emulating Jesus the “living stone,” so that we ourselves are “built into a spiritual house.” The people are the church, who are the Body of Christ! We are living stones, a metaphor that is unique to Peter in the New Testament. Yes Christ is the corner stone, many others say, but only Peter goes this step further to describe us, like Christ, as “living stones.” We have a calling to embody Christ in the world, as a people already saved in the hope of Christ’s resurrection.
I think, one of the things, that makes the Rapture and the desire for God to come so American, is our voracious appetite for more. For something better. The desire for a more satisfying end to all this. When that is combined with Harold Camping’s exclusivism, and his literal mindset that numbers don’t lie, you have a home grown false prophet. But – and here’s the catch – we all have a bit of the voracious appetite for more, or for something better. You don’t have to be an End Times true believer to get caught up in the American dream of “more” and “better.” You just have to be an American. That’s what instant gratification is all about, what our commercial television, radio, and internet, saturate us in. Our unparalleled technological advances make it, oh so desirable, and our service industry is trained to always, politely, offer more of it. So whether or not we look to the Rapture to get our fix of “more” and “better,” we too are caught up, no pun intended, in the frenzy of what the world promises to save us with.
But “like newborn infants,” as Peter says, “long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” And we have, here at the table, tasted that the Jesus is good, who in the bread and wine nourishes and sustains us. This is how we are filled up, and where we are made ready for the day of Christ’s coming. No one knows when it will be, but we are ready to the extent that we are becoming the “living stones.” Like the large stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. Like the stones that Jesus said would shout out and testify that he was king. We are living stones, a part of the resurrection. For nothing is impossible with Christ. We are the living stones of the church, “being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” Come, taste and see that the Lord is good!