No doubt you have heard that a radio preacher named Harold Camping has predicted that the rapture will occur at 6 pm PDT on May 21, 2011. There are billboards, web-sites, and people handing out flyers. Many news outlets have picked this up.
The Washington Post On Faith blog has four essays on this.
Jason Boyett: Harold Camping and the apocalypse of my youth
Brad Hirschfield: What happens when the Messiah doesn’t show?
Richard Dawkins: Science explains the end of the world
Brian McLaren: End times theology: an insider’s guide
Bishop John Shelby Spong: Harold Camping does not represent Christianity
Bruce Epperly at Patheos reflects:
Each day, I wake up and say aloud, "This is the day that God has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it." Then I ask God, "What adventures will I have today? What new possibilities will emerge that will call forth my creativity and courage? Help me be ready to respond." According to Family Life Radio preacher Harold Camping, I better be ready to respond in a big way on May 21.
On this day, Camping predicts, the earth will shake, tombs will open, the dead will arise, and, along with a faithful remnant of Christians everywhere, the true believers will ascend to the heavens to meet Jesus. Camping estimates that only 2 percent of the earth's population will be "raptured," or rise to meet Jesus in the clouds, while the rest of creation will endure five months of torment before the curtain falls on the human and planetary adventures.
While scripture suggests that no one knows the time of God's final fulfillment of history, Camping believes that scripture can be deciphered, and that he has done just that, down to the day and the hour. In fact, the Bible is a book of clues, more elaborate than a Dan Brown novel, and all the clues point to May 21, 2011, exactly 13,023 years after the creation of the world and twenty-three years after the beginning of the final and great tribulation, which, according to Camping, we've been living in since May 22, 1988. Five months later, October 21, 2011, God will finish the job, destroying the creation in its entirety. The rapture and earthly upheavals will begin at 6 p.m. in the Pacific Rim and work their way eastward, time zone by time zone.
My favorite scene in the really awful "Left Behind" movie is when the Kirk Cameron character is looking for help in a chaotic post rapture world. He walks into a church where the pastor--and a good portion of the congregation--has been left behind. In the background, while 'Buck' and the pastor are talking, are people in the church doing...what? You guessed it. They are feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, comforting the grieving. We see them even praying with those who come seeking refuge.
Like many theories about who is among God's chosen people, the people who believe in this kind of end-times theology believe that will be among those taken up...and that we, ordinary and mainline Christians who don't believe enough or correctly will be left behind. So, according to them, there we'll be, carrying on, doing what we always do. We'll be doing corporal acts of mercy while they take off.
Perhaps, the imagery of apocalypse can remind us of the fragility of life and challenge us to seize the moment. When someone tells me Jesus is coming again, I usually respond, "Yes, he is," and then I add, "He's coming every moment." What I mean is that God is part of every moment, calling us to decision: will we choose life or death? Life is serious -- as well as joyful -- business and we would do best to wake up both May 21 and May 22 with the affirmation: "This is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it." Rather than RSVP for a future of doom, let's accept the invitation to treasure each moment, embrace beauty, share words and acts of love, and joyfully create and plant seeds for trees whose fruit we will never taste.