Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the Earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation, the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit, and disease descended like a mist. One by one, all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.
Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon Heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But as this could only continue for so long, at the designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels, “The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff.”
Having spoken these words, God slowly turned to face the world and called forth the Church with a booming voice, “Rise up and ascend to Heaven, all of you who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me, all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out, ‘Lord, Lord.’”
In an instant millions were caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm, leaving the suffering world behind them.
Once this great rapture had taken place, God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying, “It is done. I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us to leave this place and take up residence on the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people: the ones who would forsake Heaven in order to embrace the Earth, the few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant.”
And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the Earth: the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark of God; the few who had discovered Heaven in the very act of forsaking it.
What an awesome Peter Rollins’ story – once again from his latest book The Insurrection.
Maybe even perverse rapture.
It zings me, I believe, the way those stories Jesus told zinged his audience. We, of course, are unzingable, usually, by the stories Jesus told. We are so sure we know the punch lines, and we are equally sure we know who the bad guys are and just who we are in his stories (certainly not the bad guys).
So it’s good that this story hurts. That we can feel (hopefully) the reverse and perverse nature of the kingdom of God. On the heels of reading and revelling and retching in Rollins’ story, I read Richard Rohr’s thoughts on this Christmas 2011:
When people are truly following Jesus, they enjoy a great freedom from themselves—they can laugh at themselves, and let others do the same. They can accept humiliations and not being first or best—because their own reputation is not at stake. They know it is all about the One Eternal Christ Mystery and not about them.
The mature follower of Jesus will probably look more like a holy fool than a pious churchgoer, an uptight schoolmarm, or a too-obvious “saint.” At Jesus’ very birth he is fully identified with poverty, homelessness, immigrants, shepherds who were unclean by Temple criteria, and pagan astrologers from some offbeat Oriental religion! This Cosmic Christ did not come to create or maintain any in-groups or superiority systems, but to live and offer to the world a universal truth. Such a Christmas is indeed worthy of being the central holiday and holy day of the entire year.
Reverse rapture Christmas.
So funny (sadly) how a kingdom and a savior for desperate outsiders is historically, over and over again co-opted by well-to-do insiders who fashion themselves into exclusive Jesus Clubs with their own distinctive brand labels. How easy to confuse those self-sewn labels with the true divine mark.
Of all the settings where I have recited the Semon on the Mount over the years, I’m reminded of the one that remains the most meaningful to me: a men’s shelter in Glasgow. I’m certain none sported the correct brand labels; Jesus Club rejects all; earthy, dirty, toothless, unachievers all – and barely understandable by me. I just about lost it when I came to the statement, “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” Mixture of hysterical laughter and tears.Golden apples in silver baskets.
For the first time, the words felt true.