You gotta give Robert Fitzpatrick credit. He has definitely put everything on the line for what he believes. Because in his heart of hearts he is convinced that judgment day is coming on May 21, he feels he has a sacred obligation to warn the rest of us. So he has spent all of his retirement income on billboards and other advertising to get the word out. On May 22, I suspect he will still be here on earth, and he’ll be penniless. How sad.
He has accomplished one thing. Through his efforts, he certainly has people talking about the end times. In the dominant culture around us, there seems to be one way we hear it explained by Christians. And that’s the whole bit about the rapture taking all the good people up into heaven and the rest of us miserable, rotten people being left behind. I don’t know if this puts me off so much because it offends my understanding of God’s grace or because somebody’s having a party and I’m clearly not invited. But it doesn’t matter because it’s just plain fiction. The whole idea of the rapture has only been around for about a hundred years. It draws on a bit of scripture here and a bit of scripture there, all put together with crazy glue in a way that’s very creative, but not very biblical.
Among Christians, there are other ways to understand the second coming. Most of the Lutherans I know believe it's something that happens for us individually; for each of us our final day will come when we stand face-to-face before our God. In that respect, being ready at all times because nobody knows the day or the hour is good, sound advice.
Theologically, the problem I have with that understanding is that it’s so private. There’s no communal aspect to it, and I think there is something communal intended in the biblical idea of the second coming. In that respect, I kind of like the way the theologian John Dominic Crossan explains it when he says that “The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon, violently, or literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence.”
That works for me. But the truth is, all of these theories are just conjecture. Jesus was not at all what the experts of his time had expected. They didn’t have a clue what was really going on. And we don’t have a clue today, either. We don’t know what God is doing in this world, other than loving it. Jesus says that even he doesn’t know the day or the hour. So, the only thing we can expect is to be surprised.
In one of my favorite episodes of the old “Dick Van Dyke Show”, it’s Rob’s birthday and his wife Laura has planned a surprise party for him. Unfortunately, Rob finds out about it and the whole episode is about him looking around every corner expecting to be surprised. When his entire birthday goes by and there’s no surprise, Rob thinks maybe he’s been mistaken. There isn’t going to be a surprise after all. And so, he gets ready for bed and he’s in his pajamas when he walks out into the living room to turn out the light. That’s when his friends jump out and surprise the living daylights out of him. The twist is that even though he knew he was going to be surprised, he ends up being surprised after all. The episode is entitled, “A surprise surprise is a surprise.”
It begs the question, if you’re expecting to be surprised, can you really ever be surprised? I don’t know, but I do know that it changes the way we live. Expecting to be surprised turns life into an adventure to be relished rather than an ordeal to be feared. As God’s people, our calling is not to convince the world that we have special knowledge of God’s purpose that they’d best listen to if they don’t want to get left behind. That’s not our calling. We’re called to open our eyes and see how God’s purpose is already being manifested in the world around us, so that, seeing it, we also might participate in it.
Is Jesus coming on May 21? I can can tell you for a fact that many of us will be seeing him on that day. Because Jesus is already here.