On multiple occasions, I have really enjoyed going to escape rooms. I greatly enjoy the challenge, the creativity, and the immersion. Getting out of these escape rooms requires searching, problem solving, and working together to complete puzzles and find various combinations. By and large my experience with Escape Rooms has been a lot of fun, and I have greatly enjoyed doing them. I am not the only one. Escape Rooms have exploded in popularity. In just a few short years the number of escape rooms in the United States has exploded to over 2,000. I especially like that a number of people have found ways to package the escape room experience in a box. These escape room at home products have also exploded in popularity and there are many to choose from. All of these rooms have a wide variety of themes, puzzles, gimmicks, and tricks they employ. However, across the board they share one commonality. The goal is always the same: Escape!
Escape is a good objective for an experience that blurs the lines between game and reality, but escape is a less than stellar objective for faith. Unfortunately, it seems for a lot of people escape is the primary reason for faith. Escapist or Escapism theology is a viewpoint that has a lot of adherents. This viewpoint sees the primary point of faith to escape this world and make it to heaven. It is the concept that the reason we follow God is so that we can escape this mess we call earth and go home to heaven. The primary tenant of an escapist viewpoint is something along the lines of “My home is in heaven, I am just passing through this world.” To be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, I do not think this is the right attitude. After all, if we are just passing through then we do not have neighbors to love. The point of faith, the point of being a Christian, is not to escape to heaven. Christians are supposed to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ came to save the world. The end goal of Christ was not to get to heaven. Jesus started in heaven, and he left there to enter this world. The mission of Jesus, and by extension the mission of his followers, is to redeem the whole world.
The end of Revelation there is a scripture that reminds us that there will be a day of no more death, no more crying, or pain. This is a future reality that as believers and followers of Jesus Christ, should feel us with hope. However, escaping to this heavenly future should not be the chief concern of our faith. We should not be so ready to “go home” that we turn a blind eye to all of the people around us who need our help, who need compassion, and who need to be told the good news of Jesus Christ.
I greatly appreciate that the liturgy for the United Methodist Service of Death and Resurrection affirms this viewpoint. One of the prayers from the liturgy that I often use at funerals begins: “Eternal God, we praise you for the great company of all those who have finished their course in faith and now rest from their labor.” I greatly appreciate this prayer because as we remember and celebrate the life of a loved one, it reminds us that our lives are not just about escaping this world. Life is meant to be lived not just endured. I cannot speak for you, but when my time comes I hope those I leave behind can celebrate a life well lived instead of offering the platitude “at least he is home now.” For those who are baptized and clothed in Christ, a life well lived means following Jesus. It means loving others, it means putting others first, and it means sharing the love of God with others in word and deed.
Another aspect of the Methodist funeral liturgy that I appreciate comes from one of the included dismals. This dismissal ends the service of death and resurrection by addressing the assembled congregation as such: “Now may the God of peace who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus . . . make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory forever and ever.”
I like this benediction because it reminds us, those still living on this earth, life is about more than just waiting for our turn. We are not supposed to be waiting for our time to escape but instead we are to be equipped by the great Shepherd of the sheep and the blood of the eternal covenant to do God’s will, to work among the people, and to glorify Christ through our actions. As disciples of Jesus Christ our calling is not to just pass through this life as quickly as possible. We have a faith-driven responsibility. It is our responsibility to share God’s love with others by seeing and meeting their needs. It is our responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus by tending hurts and enabling dreams. It is our responsibility to join God in the work of redeeming this world one soul at a time and transforming this world into a more loving place.
The goal of faith is not to escape, it is to life a life of faithful discipleship that makes a real difference. For those who belong to Christ Jesus, we can look forward with hopeful anticipation for a day when the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End succeeds in making all things new. For every single one of us, there will be a day when we all get to heaven. But until that day comes, may we choose to live life well in a way that glorifies God, shines the light of Christ, and transforms this world.