The Seventh-day Adventists do not promise everlasting life but they do offer me an extra decade. When I enter the church doors, I’m handed a flyer for their “10 Years More Series: Happier, Healthier, Longer,” a set of special presentations about the importance of weight control and proper sleep. Before now, what I knew of this denomination came from the media attention given to a Seventh-day Adventist community in southern California for having an average lifespan many years longer than the national average. This denomination promotes a plant-based diet. They are basically messianic vegans; apparently, that is not an oxymoron. Their interest in growing organic food is part of an effort to return the planet to a Garden-of-Eden-like state in anticipation of, and perhaps even to accelerate, Christ’s return to earth.
Today’s service takes place in a church building belonging to a different denomination. The Seventh-Day Adventists hold their services on Saturdays, making it convenient for them to share a building with a denomination that worships on Sundays.
The program announces the time of today’s sunset as well as the sunset for the following Friday evening. As far as I know, this is the only Christian denomination that celebrates according to the lunar Jewish tradition of Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Officially, the holy day began the previous evening. The Bible suggests that Jesus won’t return until the “Sabbath is restored” and Seventh-day Adventists interpret this literally. This is another action they hope will help fulfill Biblical prophecy.
When Jesus did not return in 1843, Miller revised his prediction. He decided his miscalculation was the result of an oversight; he hadn’t taken into account the “tarrying time” referred to in the Bible. Believers decided upon a corrected date: October 22, 1844.
What must it have been like to be among the faithful who stayed up that fall night hoping for Christ to appear? I stumbled upon an account of a farmer who described the anticipation. He stood in a field with other believers, their eyes trained to the sky. I can only imagine what they hoped to see: some bright light or benevolent fireball and then the figure of Jesus with his arms outstretched to them. Perhaps a golden staircase would materialize for the faithful to climb.
When the sun rose as usual on October 23rd, the farmer and his companions were devastated. The failure of Jesus to return on that date has gone down in the history books as “the Great Disappointment.”
Ellen White, the woman credited with founding the Seventh-day Adventists, was just an ordinary girl growing up in Maine when these events were unfolding. She had believed passionately in Miller’s predictions. Not long after the Great Disappointment, she began to have visions. She would fall into trance-like states in which heavenly messengers would communicate with her.
Of all my church visits so far, I have not yet had anyone readily admit to first-hand interactions with celestial beings. That is about to change…