The talk of the week was the rapture of believers at 6pm on Saturday as Judgement Day arrived with a great earthquake. Those who had believed the prophecy committed their finances to spreading the word and left their jobs to have time to do so. It seems we are all still here and it’s business as usual. Jesus talked about what would happen at the end of our lives, promising that he had a place prepared for us and would come and take us there. He also stated that we cannot know the time of his coming. What we must do is to continue Jesus’ work on earth until he returns rather than spending time and energy on predictions which cannot possibly be true.
On Sunday the readings were Acts 7:55-end, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, and John 14:1-14. My reflection follows:
As you are here with me in the Cathedral, I’m not sure whether to congratulate you for your good sense in not giving your PC or laptop away with all your money, or to commiserate with you because, like me, you have been left behind!
For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m referring to the prophecy made by Rev Harold Camping, the 89-year-old leader of Family Radio based inCalifornia. He calculated from various verses in the Bible that at 6pm on Saturday a huge earthquake would take place, far worse than the one recently inJapan. This would be the announcement that Jesus has returned and Judgement Day has begun. From the first place to reach 6pm,Tonga, the event would roll around the world as it became 6pm in each place. The true believers would be raptured, that is swept up to heaven, leaving everyone else behind.
Obviously, 6pm Saturday has passed in every part of the world now. I read a website today that confidently told me that the fact that I could read it meant I hadn’t been raptured and would now face a terrible 5 months until 21st October this year when the universe will finally end. By that date, as an unbeliever, I will be dead.
We may laugh at people’s gullibility in believing a self-proclaimed prophet whose previous dates for the rapture have come and gone with nothing happening, but it’s a serious issue. Somehow Harold Camping convinced people to donate millions so that billboards could be put up acrossAmericastating: ‘Judgment Day is coming May 21st, 2011 – The Bible guarantees it!’ This money came from life savings which Camping’s followers mistakenly thought they would no longer need. People have left their schools and their jobs and spent their time letting people know of this special date. Today many of them will be wondering what to do in order to pick up the pieces of their lives. They will be lacking money, job and hope. Meanwhile Harold Camping is nowhere to be found.
For some of those who have not given their money away, the task continues of taking steps to protect themselves from Apocalypse 2012. At the Solstice on 21 December 2012 the completion of the 5,125 year Great Cycle of the Ancient Maya Long Count Calendar will occur. Although the genuine Mayan prophecies do not focus on a Doomsday scenario, many people, including many celebrities, expect the date to be some form of the end of the world. Survival communities are being built on mountaintops and in missile silos deep under the ground. It appears that not all those who believe this are weird according to psychologists. Many are ordinary level headed people affected by fear in an unsettled world. This is something we can easily understand when we think of the numerous natural disasters we have witnessed in recent months.
The Gospel passage from John finds the disciples in a time of fear, a time when the future looked threatening and insecure, much as it may do for those concerned about the Mayan prophecies. Over and over Jesus had told the disciples that he had to die. Just before this passage we saw Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as an example for them. Then, deeply troubled, he told them that one would betray him and that Peter would deny him. He warned them that he would be with them just a little while longer. Twice he said that they could not go where he was going at that moment.
Jesus knew what difficulties the disciples would face in the hours and days ahead. He sought to comfort them with his words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” It seems that Thomas was very troubled. Earlier he had urged the disciples to go with Jesus toBethanywhen Lazarus had died and if necessary die with him. He was brave in the face of a known threat but this time he seemed to lose his confidence. Perhaps Jesus’ words about preparing a place, going and coming back were all too confusing. Thomas seemed to be someone who worked with concrete ideas and so he asked the obvious question: “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus didn’t give Thomas a road map ofPalestineor the latest satellite navigation device, he gave him himself as the guide. The way is Jesus, a person with whom Thomas and the other disciples had had a three year relationship. All they needed was to follow the example Jesus had given them and it would get them where they needed to be in the end. He assured the disciples that they already knew the way to where he was going. They didn’t have to wait for a future revelation; they had it right there just as they had done for three years.
Jesus also told them that he is the truth. People who followed Harold Camping thought he was telling them the truth. They trusted him and gave him their money and their futures. Jesus doesn’t just tell the truth; he IS the truth. Everything about Jesus, words and actions, was genuine and consistent. He was and is truth through and through and so worthy of trust.
Thirdly Jesus said he was the life. He said that he came to give life in abundance, far better life than the best quality of human life without him. What Jesus gives is eternal life which is available for us now and will continue forever. We are offered God living in us by his Spirit.
After this it was Philip’s turn to seek clarification. I can almost sense him trying to keep up as Jesus told the disciples that they were to come to the Father through him. Jesus had added another dimension to the puzzle. Perhaps Philip thought that all he needed was to see the Father and everything would drop into place. Once again, the answer was not far away but right there in front of the disciples and had been for the three years they had known Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the Father.
In all this questioning it seems the disciples didn’t pick up on Jesus’ message that his going away was for their benefit as it is for ours. He has gone to prepare a place for us. Jesus said that no one could know the time when he would return, he would be like a thief in the night catching us unawares. Whatever the various prophets of doom may say, we cannot know when the world will end or when our own life will end. Nor can we know the nature of the ending of our life. It is really pointless to worry about it.
Stephen, whose death we hear about in the passage from Acts, was following Jesus as the way, just as Jesus expects of his disciples. He was serving others in Jesus’ name as a deacon, caring for the widows. He had no way of knowing that he would die as the first Christian martyr but it seems that as his life was about to end he did see Jesus beckoning him on to the place prepared for him. Like the master he had followed, he forgave those who killed him.
The disciples seemed to be looking for something complicated and wanted to get things right I suspect. The Christian life is essentially simple, though not necessarily easy. Jesus invites us to look at the works he did and to believe in him. Having believed we are to follow him, living as he did with concern for the poor, the sick and the outsider. We are to share the good news with all who will listen, to tell people our story and what Jesus means to us. We are to let them know they too can have a relationship with Jesus which will protect them from worry about the future.
Jesus also promised that those who believe in him will do greater things than he did. It’s hard to know exactly what we may achieve but we can certainly reach around the world through this ministry in SL. We are not confined to one geographical area as Jesus was so let’s make the most of the opportunity afforded to us.
Whatever happens, earthquakes, famines, disasters, we can all know as the psalmist says, that our times are in God’s hands. When our time here is over, Jesus has promised he will personally take us to the place prepared for us. Meanwhile we can remember Jesus’ words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”