Whether you're watching "The Leftovers" on HBO, anticipating the Oct. 3 opening of "Left Behind" with Nicolas Cage, or finally deciding to read author and evangelical Christian minister Tim LaHaye's 16-novel series, the Rapture is definitely front and center. The Rapture, based on the Book of Revelations, is believed by some Christians to be a time when Jesus Christ returns to collect the faithful.
This week's clergy explain how this event figures into their faith.
The Rev. A.G. Chancellor III, Mount Olive Baptist Church, Medford:
What I explain to the church is that we know Jesus Christ is coming. We don't know the time, date and hour. So, you must live each day as if it is our last day. We must live as if he is coming back in our lifetime. That is how the Rapture comes into play. He will come like a thief in the night. We will not have time to prepare, so we must begin preparations now. We must be obedient and obey his commandments at all times.
We believe that what happens at the time of the Rapture is that those who are dead in Christ will rise, and those living in Christ will be caught up together to meet him in the air. There will be a time of tribulation and persecution here on Earth as has never been seen before.
After that period of tribulation, Christ will return and set up his kingdom here on Earth. As the expression says, there will be heaven here on Earth. My interpretation of the Rapture is from the Book of Revelations, which is a book of prophecy. We do our best to understand and also turn to the Holy Spirit to aid our understanding.
Father William Brisotti, pastor, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, Wyandanch:
Although there is no specific statement from the church regarding the Rapture, from what we read and learn from the Scriptures and Catechism, there will not be two second comings of Christ. There will not be a "secret coming" when Jesus will take some believers, go back to heaven, and then come back to get the rest who have survived the "tribulation."
Catholics take the view that was put forth by St. Augustine, the coexistence of good and evil on Earth until the end. The tension that exists on Earth between those who do good and those who do evil, as well as the sinner and saint in each of us, will be resolved only by Christ's return at the end of time. The golden age of the millennium is the heavenly reign of God with the saints, in which the community of faith on Earth participates to some degree, though not in the glorious way it will at the Second Coming. In other words: we are all in the same boat until the end when Christ comes again.
Essentially all of this can be a great distraction from what believers should really be concerned about: bringing hope, mercy and compassion to human history, and participating in the struggle to transform the world and its systems toward fairness and equity for all God's children. Matthew 25 says it all: the Final Judgment will be based on how we have cared for the least among us.
The Rev. Dr. Louise Stowe-Johns, pastor, Amityville First United Methodist Church:
"The Rapture" has never been something in seminary or in conversation that United Methodists have given a lot of attention. One of the reasons is that we believe God's grace will bring us all ultimately into a relationship with God. No one will suffer forever. In general, Methodists believe when we die, we go immediately to be with God.
My own personal theology is that God will receive all of us eventually, but some will have to spend a longer time in repentance, finding out how to become loving, to be more Christ-like in order to be fully received in God's presence. I see it kind of like being on another planet for a while, but the planet is still within God's orbit.
I think some of the Rapture is very fear-based. To me, God is so filled with love that we should not fear him. We should respect him but not fear him. I have never felt fear is a strong motivator. The fear that God is going to punish them may work as a motivator for a while but not in the long term.
Revelations is a difficult book to understand. I believe, and the theologians I have read feel, you can't understand Revelations with a 20th or 21st century understanding. There are too many symbols, too many references of the day we cannot get. Most of it cannot be read literally. It is one of those books you have to step back from to get the big picture.