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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Did you hear the one about the end of the world?

      The jokes flew on the 21st, because the leader of a fringe Christian group with a radio show declared he had found in the Bible the heretofore secret information that the so-called “rapture” would happen at 6 p.m. local time, starting in New Zealand and rolling around the world. The web blossomed with joke rapture photos. My favorite was a slobbish guy sitting on the sofa with his remote, eyes fixed on the TV, while all around him lay the empty clothes of his family, including a romper in a baby seat.
     We made our own jokes too. On Facebook, I wrote “This rapture stuff is just the silliest thing I ev” and clicked the “share” button on the stroke of six. My son posted “Hey, where are my parents?” My husband wrote that his wife and son had disappeared, and he was left behind. We laughed, and our friends laughed. Then today, in our adult Sunday school class, someone said, “You know, it was the end of the world for some people.”
     Now, I don’t believe in the rapture as a plucking away of all the Christian believers, taking them to Heaven and leaving everybody else to an age of misery. Yes, Jesus did say “One will be taken and the other left,” but when people asked Him where they would go, He said, “Where the bodies are, there the vultures will gather.” Hmm. Does that sound like someplace you want to go?
     No, we’ll be separated into two groups, all right, but it happens once on the last day. Jesus says “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:39) Martha said to Jesus about her brother Lazarus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24) I’m pretty sure “last” means “last,” not phases. But the point is that every one of us will face judgment. Those who left this world on Saturday know which group they are in.
     The idea of judgment day used to be pretty common in ordinary speech, along with things like “until kingdom come.” Almost everyone knew there would be a day when Jesus, the son of God, would come back to the earth to make everything right. To judge. To do justice. A dear woman I know posted jokingly that she was a little disappointed at being left behind. A friend of hers told her, “If anyone got to go, it would be you.” But we aren’t saved from hell and brought into the kingdom of God because we’re so sweet. In fact, God’s sorting system has nothing to do with our personalities or achievements. The only thing that counts is whether you belong to Christ or not. (What a relief!) In spite of all our bad behavior, all the things we hope our friends never find out about, if we trust that Jesus took the punishment for them and that He has lent us His clean robe, we are part of His nation, His kingdom, His family. I’m in.

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