In the 1970s, a man named Hal Lindsey wrote several books proclaiming that an event called “The Rapture” was going to occur in the 1980s. In more recent years, this “Rapture” was depicted in the books and movies of the Left Behind series.
I read one of Lindsay’s books, The Late Great Planet Earth, when I was in college and a very new Christian. I didn’t understand any of it. Indeed, “The Rapture” is a misunderstanding of our Lord’s second coming.
In the mid-1980s, a man named Edgar Whisenot published a book called 88 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988. Aside from having a last name that undoubtedly led to great humiliation in junior high school, Mr. Whisenot was talked about among all the Christians that I knew in Toledo, Ohio, where I lived. Whisenot maintained that even though the Bible says we cannot know the day or the hour of our Lord’s second coming, it doesn’t say we cannot know the week or the month. Thus, he predicted the week of the Jewish Festival of Roshashana in September of 1988 to be the time.
One local Bible church pastor took Whisenot at his word, and was seen on the local news almost every night leading up to the predicted week. He and his congregation were busy getting all things ready for the Lord’s return. When the week was over, the pastor was nowhere to be found, although a few of his congregants were willing to be found by the news.
In the 1990s, a man named Harold Camping, Founder of the Christian Radio Network “Family Radio” predicted not this mysterious event called “The Rapture,” but the real Second Coming of Christ. That is, the end of the world. Like Whisenot in 1988, Camping predicted the event around September 6, which he revised on September 7 to September 29 and then on September 30 to October 2. In 2005, he recalculated and publicized his prediction to 2011. Camping died in 2013, having publicly repented of predicting the date, which he believed—probably rightly—was a sin, based on a passage in Matthew 24, which we will read on Advent 1.
Why would these men do this? Why write books and do radio shows?
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect they sincerely believed this to be good news. After all, Christians do believe in the Second Coming—we say it in the Creed every time. If someone could actually decode the hints in Holy Scripture about the “when”, shouldn’t we want to know this?
The Church calendar and Lectionary work together to get us through the major events of our Lord’s life every year, and through the major events in Scripture every three years. Only two more Sundays and we’re at the end of the Lectionary. On December 1, we’ll begin a new year—Year A of the three-year cycle—on the First Sunday of Advent. Advent 1—every year—ties the end (the second advent of Jesus) with the beginning (the nativity, the incarnation). And year C—the current year–is giving us something of a “ramp up” to that end and beginning. That is, all of todays’ readings have something to do with the End of Time, the Second Advent of our Lord.
Even our Psalm today mentions “When the Lord comes to Judge the earth.” Creation itself—the sea, the lands, the rivers and the hills—will all joyfully proclaim the coming of the Lord in judgment. A judgment in righteousness and with equity. In other words, not as the world judges. We can dread judgment in the world, but God’s judgment is something to look forward to. That seems strange to us, doesn’t it?
From today’s Old Testament reading from Haggai, the prophet speaks of a time (vaguely referred to as “in a little while”) where the Lord will “shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.” Indeed, the Lord will “shake all nations,” with the result that the splendor of the Lord’s house—the temple which was to be reconstructed—the Lord’s house would have greater splendor than ever before. Like today’s Psalm, this future coming of the Lord is a good thing for God’s people. The Lord’s shaking shakes out the bad, making the good look even better.
Today’s New Testament reading also speaks of shaking. Did you notice that? St. Paul urges the Thessalonian church not to be shaken, thinking that the Lord had come and they missed it. That would be quite disconcerting, wouldn’t it?
That brings us to our Gospel for today. For it is hope that the Sadducees do not have. The Sadducees were a group of religious officials who, like Mr. Whisenot of the 88 Reasons, took the Bible very literally. Since there was no mention of resurrection in Genesis through Deuteronomy, the books of Moses, there was no resurrection. Period. Seems to me a hopeless existence, but they were trying to make something of it.
And so they approach Jesus with an absurd question, showing both their ignorance of the Hebrew Scriptures and of the Hebrew God. They ask about marriage in the resurrection, pointing out one of Moses’s laws about brothers marrying their dead brother’s widow. “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection,” they ask. They’re playing “Stump the Savior” and they think they’ve found the right question.
Our Lord points out their ignorance, and in doing so gives us some teaching about marriage. Marriage is something for “this age”. In the age to come, there is no marriage because, our Lord says, “they cannot die any more.” (No marriage because they cannot die any more. Go ahead and make up your own jokes.)
Further, our Lord points out that Moses, too, must have believed in resurrection. At the burning bush, Moses calls the Lord, “the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were, of course, buried with their ancestors—so thought these Sadducees. But no—He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And our Lord’s resurrection proves that beyond any shadow of doubt.
In the early 5th century, St. John Chrysostom was removed from his position of Archbishop of Constantinople by the Empress Eudoxia. She threatened to banish him if he continued as a Christian preacher. History records the following conversation:
“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house,” said John.
“But I will kill you,” the Empress said.
“No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”
“I will take away your treasures,” said the empress.
“No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”
“But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left,” the empress responded.
“No, you cannot,” said John, “for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you. For there is nothing you can do to harm me.”
The empress found herself with no real power over St. John Chrysostom. His hope was not anchored in this world, but in Our Risen Lord.
I began this sermon by mentioning three men who predicted dates for our Lord’s Second Coming—Hal Lindsey, Edgar Whisenant, and Harold Camping. As wrong as it may be to make these predictions, as nutty as it seems to predict the end of the world, these men are onto something. They look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Our hope is a sure and living hope—a hope that holds the future in the present, because it is anchored in the past. Our hope is in this: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Adapted from the sermon. Audio available here.