What timing! We ended up in Florida at the same time the shuttle Atlantis was scheduled for its final launch. Not just its final launch, but the close of the shuttle era.
I remember when that first shuttle launched. And I remember watching on TV in my high school when the Challenger exploded. I remember vividly some years later watching the news of another tragedy unfold in the skies over Texas.
The shuttle program has been a major accomplishment during my lifetime. So for me to have the opportunity to see a live launch was, dare I say, once in a lifetime.
Once we heard there were a million people crammed into Cape Canaveral and the surrounding towns, we decided to stay at Dayton Beach and watch. It was cloudy so we didn’t have high hopes of seeing much. But we’d see something and that was the important thing.
As launch time approached and the countdown fell within one minute of launch, we stood on the beach and looked towards the horizon. What struck me in all of this was how still and quiet Dayton Beach became.
The ocean itself hit the mute button. Someone on a balcony counted, “seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…”
As I looked to the horizon I saw the brightest burning flame rapidly ascend into the clouds. It broke through for another couple of seconds and then it was gone.
It was as bright as a welder’s arc and quicker than anything I’ve seen fly. I have never seen anything like it. That’s when my son Jackson asked where the aliens were going!
I thought about what it must have been like as the disciples stood and watched Jesus ascend. They had never seen anything like that either. But, of course, after you witness a man brutally murdered then raised from the dead, is anything too marvelous?
They, like Jackson, had some confused thoughts surrounding the event.
In Acts 1:11, the angels told them not to be puzzled. Jesus would return in the same manner that he left. That shuttle will also return in a like manner in which it left. However, it will be retired and put in a museum.
When Jesus returns, it will be a glorious and magnificent event. And people will likely stand in stunned silence at the sight and sound. And those who have put on Christ in baptism will be taken up with him to eternal glory.
But this time I’ll have a front row seat. How about you?
Sean is the involvement and outreach minister at Somers Avenue church in North Little Rock, Ark.