Coming Attractions

      Comments Off on Coming Attractions

To listen to today’s reflection as a podcast, click here

It’s coming.  And there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Just when you thought 2024 couldn’t get any crazier – what with a total solar eclipse, crowds flocking to see a movie depicting a future civil war, and a November election that for some reason keeps popping up in the news – America is now on the verge of an apocalyptic invasion of insects. 

Entomologists are predicting that within the next few weeks two enormous broods of periodical cicadas will simultaneously emerge from their underground hibernation.

“It’s like an entire alien species living underneath our feet,” says Saad Bhamla, professor of biotechnology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, speaking with the unsettling enthusiasm of that guy in every horror movie who plays the science nerd.

Globally, there are more than 3,400 species of cicadas.  Most are “annuals,” with a new generation appearing above ground every year.  Periodical cicadas, on the other hand, are among the longest-lived of all insects.  They dwell underground as nymphs for more than a decade, sucking nutrition from the fluids emitted by the roots of plants and trees. 

Then they emerge.  All at once.  In numbers that are hard to comprehend. Experts believe that when Broods XIII and XIX make the scene this spring, there may be more than 100 trillion bugs. 

That’s a lot of bugs.  And they will make a great deal of noise.  While the females are silent, the males call out for mates in a deafening “love buzz” that they generate via the rapid vibration of membranes near their abdomens. Since hundreds of thousands of cicadas can emerge within a single acre, their collective volume can reach 100 decibels – a sonic blast that approximates standing three feet away from a chainsaw.

The dual emergence is what makes this such an epochal event. 

Scientists have identified 15 broods of periodical cicadas in America.  Three of them (including Brood XIX) poke their heads above ground every 13 years.  The other twelve (including Brood XIII) come out to party every 17 years.  The last time the two cycles landed on the same year was 1803, when Napoleon was thinking about invading England. 

The double invasion, dubbed “Cicada-geddon,” will extend from the upper Midwest to the Carolinas, with an unusually thick saturation expected in Illinois and Missouri. 

Cicadas look a bit like slow-moving crustaceans when they emerge from the ground.  Clinging to trees, fenceposts, brick walls, and your child’s Big Wheel, they shed their exoskeletons.  The “newborns” in this above-ground phase are white, but they quickly turn black with red eyes.  If all this seems disturbingly reminiscent of the creatures in the Alien movie series, cicadas are entirely harmless.  They’re also apparently delicious, which is why your dog will think he has won a lifetime pass to Old Country Buffet. 

It all comes to an end in four to six seeks, however.  The cicadas mate, lay their eggs, and expire in vast heaps.

It will make for a brief but fascinating chapter this spring.  And there’s really nothing you can do about it.

In fact, there are all sorts of things heading your way that you can’t do anything about, either. 

Paying taxes, for instance.  You’ll definitely want to check in with the government by midnight today, if only to file an extension.  You may bravely announce that you’ve decided, as a matter of principle, that you’re done paying taxes.  But certain federal departments feel differently about that, and they’ll want to touch base with you somewhere down the road.  Experience suggests you won’t be able to prevent that. 

Likewise, your next birthday is coming, and there’s nothing you can do to forestall its arrival.  Along with it will come the inevitable decline of some of your metabolic systems.  Americans do not distinguish themselves as people who like to think very much about such things.

Nor do we like to imagine the end of human history.  But it’s coming, too.  

The end of our personal histories – our own deaths – will almost certainly come first.  We may yearn to cheat death, delay death, or pretend that death is something that happens only to other people.  But our lives in this world will certifiably come to an end.  And there’s nothing we can do about it. 

Then there’s that other future event.  One day we will stand before God to give an account of our lives, something described in a number of scripture verses.

There’s 2 Corinthians 5:10, for example: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

That’s really going to happen.  And none of us will be able to say, “Lord, I think I’d like to take a pass on this one.” 

In our culture, the word “judgment” has come to connote condemnation or punishment.  But according to the Jewish way of seeing things – which we may presume was foundational for the apostle Paul – judgment is about something far larger.  It describes God making things right.  God is going to ensure that justice is finally done, all the way from individuals to families to communities to nations. 

Paul assures us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  But the day is coming nonetheless when God will compel each of us to account for what we did with our lives in light of his astounding mercy and grace. 

There’s nothing we can do to avoid that day. 

But if you’re alive right now – if you’re reading this post or listening to this podcast – you’re actually empowered to help determine how that time will go.

Paul is clear about that, too:

“Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook?  Better think this one through from the beginning.  God is kind, but he’s not soft.  In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change… If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended.  But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up (Romans 2:3-4, 9, “The Message”). 

We may not be able to change what’s coming down the road.

Depending on where we live, there may be, in fact, no way to avoid getting up close and personal with a few million cicadas this spring.

But there are some crucial things we can do every day:

We can trust.  And pray.  And surrender our hearts.  And love our neighbors. 

In other words, we can live in such a way that when God’s Day finally comes, we will experience greater joy in his presence than we ever imagined.