The second coming of Jesus Christ took most people by surprise. And, as the Crucifixion and Resurrection had left many scratching their heads, the Will of the Lord did not aim to please. The grand theatrics of the Rapture did not happen, there was no violent celestial battle, no rending of flesh or gnashing of teeth… no one got “Left Behind.” Or rather, everyone got left behind. As has been written in the Third Testament, “Spake the Lord: Now thou knowest Me by deed and word as the Son of God and in so knowing let false idols be cast away and driven from your minds.”
Alder faintly remembered hearing these words himself. The single bit of spectacle to come from Him happened upon Christ’s arrival. A great worldwide heavenly fanfare split the sky and He appear’d before the multitudes as if on the Jumbotron of God. Rejoice, he’d said, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand for all. None would be damned, all would be saved, Amen.
Only it wasn’t really that easy. Alder had been on a conference call when the trumpets sounded and he’d scrambled out to the street to see. And there the good Lord hovered, ageless and beautiful, speaking in all the languages of the Earth. All would be judged, he’d said, and all would live until they were deemed worthy to sit at His Father’s table.
And that is why Alder was now three hundred and seventeen years old.
In the beginning, as Alder lived into his hundred-and-teens, he welcomed this suspension of the natural laws. He ran his business as he always had, accumulating wealth as others in his field left their professions to atone for their spiritually empty lives. When he himself turned one hundred fifty, he retired to the Lower Keys and though he was in the twilight of his life, the Lord’s new covenant kept him alive. Had he shut himself off from the world and refused to eat, he would have remained painfully, hungrily alive.
Charles, Chapter 5, verse 12: “All will live until they are worthy to sit at My Father’s table.” In a land of immortals, death had become a privilege.
At two hundred years of age, bored with life, Alder set off in search of Jesus. This was not a holy quest, but an actual hunt for Christ, as He had taken up residence on Earth once again. It was revelatory–mankind was urged to continue on with prayer and worship, but specific questions could now be given an audience. Alder decided to have a word with Him.
Jesus, though, was a difficult man to track. He never stopped moving. Alder had heard of his recent miracles out west, curing cancer and HIV, so he set out in that direction, following news stories. Christ had also been absolving sinners, leaving a wake of long-sought-after deaths, so Alder’s first stop in any new town was for a slice of pie, and a place to sit and read the local obituaries.
This path led him across the Pacific to the Philippines, to Manila. The death of a 184 year-old woman and a tell-tale line of people snaking through the alley behind a street market and into a small apartment brought Alder within reach of the Son of God.
–Peace be with you, my son.
Alder did not know whether to shake His hand or how to respond. He sat, cross-legged on the floor across from Him–a short, dark man, hair to his shoulders and a trimmed beard.
–Tell me why you’re here.
–That was actually why I wanted to see you. Why are you here?
Jesus smiled, shifted His robes and fixed his dark brown eyes on Alder.
–I am fulfilling the prophesy. To return to Earth to judge the living and the dead.
–But no one is dying. I am two hundred and three. I don’t understand what it is you expect.
Jesus drew a breath, exhaled.
–You, Alder, must serve the Lord. You must use your gifts to do good in the world.
–I’ve done plenty of good…
–What you have done in this life, you have done for yourself.
Christ’s interruption was sharp, but calm. He continued.
–You have accumulated great wealth. You must sacrifice these earthly trappings in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
–So giving away my money to the poor, is that what I need to do?
–I have met many like you. This is not a simple checklist. And salvation is not an item you can purchase. You must love.
He pointed at Alder’s heart. Alder straightened up, his hands on his knees.
–Why. Can’t. I. Die?
–Now is the time for all souls to come home. It is the will of the Father for His people to know Him and this is the day of judgement.
Alder was shaking his head.
–This isn’t a day. This is two hundred years. And I’m supposed to love that? I’m supposed to love your judgement? I’m supposed to reject the life I’ve built for myself?
–Yes. If you would like to pass to the next world, you cannot cling to this one. And you must earn your reward.
Alder stood, exhaling loudly.
–Whatever happened to free will?
–You still have it. And you have as much time as you’d like to exercise it. Go in peace.
Alder clung to the center bar of the jeepney, its dingy chrome body rattling through the streets of Manila to the airport. The slight man next to him, pungent and punctuating the street noise with coughing, turned to Alder with his hand extended, palm up; a smiling, hopeful look. Alder leaned into the woman next to him, dug into his pocket for a five peso coin, and thought ruefully of the long flight home.
This piece was originally written for WRITE CLUB Atlanta.