“ As Jesus was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “ Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Or in the words of the old gospel hymn: “ Ride on, King Jesus.” “ Ride on, King Jesus, no man can-a-hinder me.”
Well, here we are at the last Sunday of the Church year. Like the disciples who gathered on the slopes of the Mount of Olives “ praising God, joyfully . . . for all the deeds of power that they had seen,” we too gather at the end of another church-year and give thanks. We proclaim the reign of Christ and all that God has done for us. And since it is impossible to talk about that reign without talking about the Kingdom over which that reign is, we also proclaim the Kingdom of God.
It has been said that we are “ Kingdom” people. That is true but at times it is hard to see. Sometimes it seems impossible. In these last days it seems even harder. Last days, in the sense of our eucharistic praying recalling that we are people already “ ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,” and truly, “ No man can-a-hinder me” . Or as in these last days following September 11th when there seems to be so much “ a-hindering” us and yet again so many fellow human beings either hurting or dead; that we feel stopped in our tracks.
As the Hebrew children asked “ how can we sing the songs of Zion on a foreign shore” , so we might ask, “ Where is the Kingdom?” when all around us is definitely not it.
St. Paul was used to being asked that question: his response was that we are living in the “ already/not yet of God’ s Kingdom. Jesus too was used to being asked, “ When is the Kingdom of God coming?” In the 17th Chapter of today’ s Gospel of Luke, the Evangelist says that Jesus answered “ The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘ Look, here it is!’ or ‘ There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of god is among you — within you.”
At 8:45 on the awful day, I was with a small group of theologians and spiritual leaders from around the country getting ready to spend the day in conversation with Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales and a superb contemporary Anglican theologian. We had gathered at Trinity Wall Street in New York — the majestic World Trade Center towers rising over us — on an absolutely stunning New York September day. Seconds later all that changed.
I was chatting with a friend and brother of the order of Holy Cross, Douglas Brown. Douglas is the Prior of the house in West Park, New York. I had my back to the window, which looked across to Trinity Church proper. I heard what I thought was a fighter jet going over Manhattan, but we all know the rest of the story.
First one plane and paper of every kind was raining down on us. We joined hands for prayer and just as we were finishing, another unearthly roar and second plane went into the south tower — one block from where we stood.
After about 30 minutes, there began a terrible rumble and everyone in the front row of seats were thrown or threw themselves on the floor. It was a terrible sound and terrific shaking. We were then given smoke masks and herded into the stairwells as the building was beginning to fill with smoke.” We couldn’ t get out onto the streets because the debris plume from the first building was as black as night and thick as carpeting. We heard that a tower had collapsed.
Finally, the plume from the collapse of the first Tower had passed and the air was beginning to clear and out we went. Once outside, I was instantly reminded of Mt. St. Helen’ s or better yet like those movies that depict a “nuclear winter” following a nuclear apocalypse. The ground was covered with about 3 inches of ash and other assorted items. Cars and buildings all had their windows blown in and it was snow-ing ash and debris. The ash was oily and soon we were all covered in it. After about a block or so the ground started rumbling and someone yelled, “ there it goes,” then the most unearthly sound I have ever heard. It was the collapse of the second tower. It was like a never-ending roar. We ducked and covered. As it seemed to quite down and I got up I could see the huge cloud of debris rolling towards us; then we began to run. As we neared the terminal for the Staten Island Ferry when the air was just about too thick to breath — all of sudden some construc-tion workers flung open the doors of their construction trailer and herded us in. “ You won’ t be able to breathe,” they said and in we went.
After about ten minutes in the trailer I lost it. Not because of shock, and not because of the fear, but because of a very young construction worker who began to pray. He had know idea that there were about 5 clergy persons, 3 theologians, 1 archbishop and several spiritual director’ s in that rag tag group of 35 people or so. He was just compelled to minister to us. He cooed with the babies and spoke with the pre-school teachers carrying them. And then he began to pray. (Now I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive, after all there were so many “ professional” pray-ers” there, and I’ m not big on giant prayer circles either, or quilted bible covers, but boy did I get my comeuppance.) Gathering us all in a circle and hold-ing hands he began to Thank God – for God’ s goodness; for the gift of his son Jesus Christ; and for the assurance of his presence, and for comfort for all gathered and in distress. Then it hit me and I finally began to sob – This, right here, right now, was part of the Kingdom of God. A total stranger, compelled to minister in the only way he knew how, in the midst of awful tragedy, reaching out to us in the name of God, and me being broken open, was finally able to see it.
The Kingdom of God is amongst you — within you. Ride on King Jesus.
Several weeks later, I had a chance to retrace my steps to safety, to visit the non-stairwell we all swore we jumped into, the trailer shed, and finally St. Paul’ s Chapel. St. Paul’ s is Trinity’ s “ other” church, just a few blocks north on Broad-way and right opposite 5 World Trade and Tower 1. Miraculously unscathed, St. Paul’ s has been providing respite, food and solace to the hundreds of rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero 24/7. Episcopal chaplains are handling the entire chaplaincy needs on the pile; while our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are tending to the morgues. In the subdued candle light, one finds dozens of cots set up for weary workers to sleep and rest, each with its own donated teddy bear. Clothing and boots for the workers as well as batteries and supplies, medications and bandages are available. All delivered from around the country by ordinary men and women compelled to minister. One very elderly woman from Harlem came by subway as far as she could then walked the 30 blocks, through the barricades to donate her cane “ someone surely needs it now more than me” she told the volun-teer on duty. Food and Coffee are available round the clock donated by noted restaurants and chefs. One fellow even brought his own mobile kitchen — a con-verted Winnabago fully up to restaurant code — all the way from Louisiana, parked it next to the church and spent a week making jambalaya among other Cajun specialties. There are massage therapists, and podiatrists, tending to the aching bodies of firemen, and demolition workers, police and rescue squads. There are hugs of thanks, words of comfort, tears, and support. And in the midst of all the tangible, hands on, perhaps a little too real and physical for some people, ministry — the Holy Eucharist takes place at the altar of the Chapel each and every day — making Christ visible to this sin broken and divided world. Phrases of scrip-ture ran through my head as I sat there: “ and Jesus touched them and healed them; ” “ he began to wash their feet,” and “ giving thanks he said to them, Come and have breakfast;” “ Take and eat, this is my body, this is my blood.”
The Kingdom of God with amongst you — with in you. Ride on, King Jesus.
Most arresting, perhaps are the letters. Notes and cards, letters and banners festoon the Georgian Chapel — oldest house of worship in New York — George Washington prayed there on his first inauguration day — New York then still the Capitol of our Nation – by the way the volunteer podiatrists work in the pew that was our First President’ s. On every pew are attached letters from school children to the rescue workers and to the people of Washington and New York. To me these are our modern day gospels. In them 6 year-olds, 10 year-olds, 8 year-olds, speak with a certainty of faith that frankly blew me away and reduced me again to tears. Not tears of pain or sorrow, but tears of gratitude and amazement. They share what they know to be the love of Jesus. “ Do not loose heart” one small girl wrote. “ In Christ all things are possible” wrote another. Some quoted their favo-rite bible verse, others tried to communicate their sure and certain knowledge of the reign of Jesus and his power to comfort and heal with the conviction of a sea-soned pastor— all this from a 4th grader! They wrote poems and stories and drew pictures (my favorite, just arrived that day, was a crudely drawn Tower and Jet liner, with a fireman on the ground saying “ Uhh Ohhh!” ) Children compelled to minister. A young construction worker compelled to minister. Men and women from across our country — compelled to minister. Imagine what we could do, who we could be, if we regularly related to one another like this in love and concern.
The Kingdom of God is amongst you — with in you. Ride on, King Jesus.
I have to confess that I cringe inwardly every time I hear 9/11 mentioned in ser-mons and news broadcasts. I wish that every-thing could go back to the way it was. We’ re even told to get on with our lives. But the truth is it can’ t be the way it was, nor should it be. We are a nation still in mourning, even though our flags have risen to full mast, and the black crepe has been put away. Just as after the death of a loved one, an individual or family gets back on its feet with time and care; so will we as a nation, and in fact as a world, get back to some semblance of normalcy. It will be different, it will take time, it will take care; and it will take God and each other.
The Kingdom of God is within — and among you. Ride on, King Jesus.
We in Washington and Northern Virginia; and our brothers and sisters in New York now live in the very real shadow of the cross — a witness to humanity’ s hatred of humanity. But as with the cross of Christ that is not the end of the story. In the midst of death there is life. In the midst of sorrow there is the healing joy of God’ s presence. In the midst of unbelievable tragedy comes the light of resurrection and a clearer vision of who and what God calls us to be. And in the midst of all of it is the Kingdom of God. The truth is that we are not absent from the Kingdom of God — We never have been, nor will we ever be. It is here — within you — amongst us.
Ride on, King Jesus. No man can-a-hinder me.
Ride on, King Jesus, ride on. No man can-a-hinder me.
Hallelujah to the Lamb
Jesus died for every man
He died for you and He died for me
He died to set poor sinners free
He died for the rich and he died for the poor
He ain’ t come here to die no more.
The kingdom of God is with in you — amongst you. Ride on, King Jesus.