While staying with them, [Jesus] ordered [the disciples] not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. …So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” From Acts 1
I have to admit there was some comic relief in the fact that the rapture didn’t happen on May 21, as a fringe fundamentalist Christian group had predicted. I may have even made a few jokes about it from the pulpit.
There is, though, some appeal to the getting-out-of-Dodge syndrome. The night before the big exam or year-end job review. When the boyfriend or girlfriend schedules a talk about “where this relationship is headed.” Tax day. Wouldn’t it be something to be sucked out of your existence here right at the moment when the state trooper pulls you over for speeding in a construction zone? To end up in a place that is all goodness and light just as the mugger demands your wallet? Not to have to go through another presidential election season which has already begun 18 months out?
The disciples thought so. They could see the handwriting on the wall. After what had happened to Jesus, how could they hope for a happy future? They were starting to hold their meetings behind locked doors for a reason. They wanted to know if things were about to get better because maybe—just maybe—Jesus really was going to bring down the Romans. And so they asked him. His less-than-straightforward reply was, in essence, “Nope.”
“You have some work to do,” he said, and then he was taken from them.
And there they stood, looking up. Wishing, I’m sure, that they could’ve been taken, too. Maybe like Elijah in the fiery chariot. Or just on a cloud, like Jesus. Really, a cloud would have been fine. But a couple of guys showed up and asked them why they were just standing there.
Whatever and whenever our end might be, it isn’t yet. We can spend our time wishing, dreaming of a world to come, or we can see what’s right in front of us. We can look up, or we can look around. We can hope in a life to come in the future, or we can realize that hope also has a quality of immediacy.
So, yes, Christian faith is all about hope. But it is also all about the now. “You have some work to do,” said Jesus. We’d best get started.