In the spring of 2002, my sister Alyssa and I left college behind for a weekend to visit our parents. After driving two hours to reach their home, we expected embraces, but encountered an empty house instead. We received only aloof acknowledgements from their Birman cats, Ellie and Vignoles.
Upon searching the house for occupants, we came upon a loaf of fresh banana bread—still steaming—in a pan on the range.
“Where are Mom and Dad?” Alyssa asked. “This banana bread’s still hot. Mom couldn’t have pulled it out of the oven more than five minutes ago. Why aren’t they here?”
“You’re right,” I said. “This is weird.” Of course, as the children of a Southern Baptist minister, we probably had a different definition of weird than most people.
We surveyed the living room and saw Dad’s moccasins lying on the living room floor. Mom’s blue jeans hung, faded and folded, over the arm of her recliner in resignation. The torsion pendulum on the anniversary clock swiveled back and forth like a restless child in a desk chair. The house, despite being empty, felt alive—the furnace purring, the lamps illuminating the living room.
“M-m-m-m-maybe Mom and Dad were…raptured,” Alyssa stuttered.
“Yeah,” I said, laughing nervously. “Maybe we’ve been left behind.”
I used the words left behind not because of the popular book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, but because of Larry Norman’s song, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”
“There’s no time to change your mind / the Son has come and you’ve been left behind,” the lyrics read. These words summarized the Rapture, at least as far as I understood it. Jesus would return and take the faithful with him, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves on Earth—or something like that.
My friend Mark and I sang this song at a poorly planned talent show at a statewide Baptist retreat in 1997. The people who coordinated the event found it unnecessary to limit the number of acts performing in the show. By the time we took the stage at 2 a.m., we sang for a largely empty venue. With only two or three people in the audience—probably the event’s organizers—Mark and I felt like we had been left behind.
Larry Norman’s song and this terrible talent show performance constituted the whole of my experience and knowledge about the Rapture.
“Do Baptists even believe in the Rapture?” I asked Alyssa.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But if Mom and Dad were raptured, it would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?”
Dad had never really spoken about the Rapture at home or from the pulpit, at least as far as I could remember. Of course, having sat through and spaced out during hundreds of his sermons, I could have easily missed something. My sermon notes, mostly deranged doodles, offered little clarification about the matter.
“If Mom and Dad were raptured,” I said, “that would explain the abandoned banana bread, the empty shoes—”
“The pair of pants—right. Although if Mom and Dad were raptured, wouldn’t we find all of the clothes they were wearing in the living room, and not just Dad’s moccasins and a pair of pants?”
“Yeah, it would seem like it,” Alyssa replied. “It also seems unlikely that Mom and Dad would’ve taken the time to fold those jeans with Jesus spiriting them away and all.”
In retrospect, I think we assumed people would part with their clothing during the Rapture because of Star Wars, of all films. When Darth Vader struck down Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope, Obi Wan’s body disappeared, leaving his cloak to collapse onto the floor.
Not exactly the stuff of Biblical theology. Of course, neither Alyssa nor I qualified as students of eschatology. Preterism, premillennialism, dispensationalism, and all the other “isms” people used when talking about the end times might have translated into sizable scores in a game of Scrabble, but they meant nothing to us.
Aristotle said nature abhors a vacuum. I suppose this holds true for spiritual matters as well. Panic all too easily fills the gaps in our theological understanding, leaving simpletons like my sister and I to leap to unwarranted conclusions.
A book like Barbara Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation might have given us answers to grapple with, but it would not be published until 2005.
At the time, the empty house, the banana bread, the moccasins, and the pair of pants draped over the recliner arm all pointed to the Rapture for Alyssa and me. The anniversary clock may as well have been the Doomsday Clock, which advanced a terrifying two minutes in 2002.
“I never dreamed we’d be left behind,” Alyssa said.
“Me either,” I replied.
“You know—that banana bread smells awfully good.”
Alyssa spoke the truth. And with Mom and Dad gone forever, that steaming loaf belonged exclusively to us. While Jesus probably decided to leave us behind because of this kind of selfishness, slicing the fragrant banana bread made us feel better about it all.
At that moment, Mom and Dad came home, interrupting our abbreviated apocalypse. I imagine we reacted to their sudden appearance much as the disciples did upon seeing the risen Lord for the first time after his crucifixion and resurrection.
“Where were you?” Alyssa and I asked in unison, our exasperation evident.
“We were taking banana bread to the neighbors and we ended up talking to them longer than we planned,” Mom replied.
Alyssa and I could hardly punish our parents for this—for doing good deeds. Leave it to Mom and Dad to be immune from criticism.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re alive—we thought you’d been raptured!” I said, my mouth full, a crumb of banana bread clinging to the corner of my mouth.