With Ascension Day upon us, and a bit of time to pause before the end of the world (phew, spared again!), we have a God-given reprieve to consider that part of our heritage that puts less weight on notions of Rapture and Apocalypse and more weight on the present suffering and our high calling to do something about it.
Harold Camping is just the latest in a long line of doom and gloom preachers who gather adherents not because of their faultless hermeneutics, but because of their appeal to our longing for home. This would have us standing on the holy mount where Jesus ascended doing nothing but looking up, awaiting a promised return. After all, 'that’s what the Bible says!' Researchers note that during periods of rapid change, fundamentalism frequently gains popularity. The world is spinning faster, more capriciously, and who doesn’t want control, certitude, and surety? There is an appeal to a ‘Home Sweet Home’ for which many people are willing to pay a high price.
However, instead of endlessly parsing Revelation for a way out, what is greatly appreciated about the Episcopal Church is its emphasis on John 17 (this Sunday’s Gospel!), which promises eternal life right now. We need not await the eschaton to be with Jesus, which means my posture is not one of standing around looking up for a divine escape route, but to look out, where Christ is calling us. The Episcopal Church reminds me that a much more central message of Jesus is to ‘go ye’ into the world to do the work of Our Lord, to heal, feed, clothe, and reconcile. We have only precious moments before check-out time. Let us have the courage to look out at a mission field that longs for workers, not straining our ears to hear Gabriel’s trumpet, but the cries of the hungry, naked, and hurting whom we have the privilege to serve.