Each Friday's eMo is a meditation on one or more of the texts that will be read in many churches on the upcoming Sunday. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
Spooky readings in church this Sunday, the kind that make people hope
the fundamentalists are mistaken. The end of the world is coming, and it will be a terrible thing.
Maybe they're right. Maybe we're supposed to be taking all this absolutely literally. Maybe we're supposed to be adding up days and years with our calculators, so we can know how long we've got. You read about this or that group doing that, now and then: they figure out that the end is coming on a given Thursday, and strain to get the word out. And then Thursday comes and goes, and the world doesn't end. I always wonder what that Friday is like for them.
I think we must turn to something besides a calculator to make useful sense of such passages in scripture. What good can they do us? Well, to begin with, they let us know what was on the minds of those who wrote the words we revere. Many of these people thought the end of the world was imminent, and behaved accordingly. Some of them didn't marry because they thought the world was coming to an end; some of them tried not to eat. What was the point? They were living what they thought were the last days of their lives.
Aha. The last days. If you knew these were your last days, what would you do differently? Anything? Everything? We'd rethink many of our habits. All of the thrifty things we do to secure our futures would be irrelevant. We wouldn't save money. We wouldn't build. We wouldn't buy; we'd sell. And then we'd look at the money in our hand and realize that it wouldn't have made a bit of difference if we'd left it all right where it was. It would not be making the trip with us. It would have no value to us at all.
We wouldn't fight. We'd stop. There would be nothing left to win in a fight. And nothing left to lose.
Most of us would rush to find the people we love. We'd tell them, one last time, just how dear they are. We would cling to them. We would want to be together when the end came.
And we would want to look at our world one last time. We'd want to see how lovely it is, one last time. We'd want to hear music. Taste food. Smell a flower and feel the dirt in which it grows with our hands, even if we knew we would never see the flower grow, even if we knew nobody would ever see it. Just to feel one more time what growth is like, before growth stops forever.
If we really thought about it, we'd realize that selfishness would avail us nothing at the end of the world, that hoarding would be to no avail, and that generosity and caring would bring people to us, if only for a little while. And we'd want people with us. So we'd not be selfish. Giving would feel better to us, at the end, than receiving.
And we would wonder what was next. It would be a time of seriousness about God, finally. Maybe our first time. Maybe not. We would understand immediately, of course, that it was too late to earn our way into heaven, if that's what we'd been trying to do, so we'd abandon that effort. In desperation, we would beg for something more, whatever God had to give us. It would be too late for anything else.
We would long for the futility of our end to be replaced with the sufficiency of God's endlessness. It would feel deeply comforting to us to think that God goes on and on, as we found ourselves ending. We would want to be included in that ongoing.
We would, at last, be living the life that brings people closer to God. If we thought the world were ending, we would be better people.
And maybe that's why we have these spooky scripture passages. Not to learn when we're going to die. But to learn how to live.