What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and
whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest.
And he said unto me, These are they which came out
of great tribulation, and have washed their robes,
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God,
And serve Him day and night in His temple.
I WAS driving a horse and buggy and not enjoying it. The day was hot, the dust kicked up by horse's hooves stuck to sweaty skin, flies were bad, there was no breeze. We were somewhere near the corner of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, but I was not sure where. I had not seen a map for days and the roads were no longer marked with highway signs for the guidance of automobilists - there were no automobiles.
The last two weeks (more or less - I had lost track of the days) had been endless torments of Sisyphus, one ridiculous frustration after another. Sell silver dollars to a local dealer in exchange for that world's paper? - no trouble; I did it several times. But it didn't always help. Once I had sold silver for local paper money and we had ordered dinner - when, boom, another world change and we went hungry. Another time I was cheated outrageously and when I complained, I was told: 'Neighbor, possession of that coin is illegal and you know it. I've offered you a price anyhow because I like you. Will you take it? Or shall I do my plain duty as a citizen?'
I took it. The paper money he gave us for five ounces of silver would not buy - dinner for Marga and me at a backwoods gourmet spot called 'Mom's Diner'.
That was in a charming community called (by a sign at its outskirts):
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
A Clean Community
Blackamoors, Kikes, Papists
We kept moving. That whole two weeks had been spent trying to travel-the two hundred miles from Oklahoma City to Joplin, Missouri. I had been forced to give up the notion of avoiding Kansas City. I still had no intention of staying in or near Kansas City, not when a sudden change of worlds could land us in Abigail's lap. But I had learned in Oklahoma City that the fastest and indeed the only practical route- to Wichita was a long detour through Kansas City. We had retrogressed to the horse-and-buggy era.
When you consider the total age of the earth, from Creation in 4004 BC to the year of Our Lord I994, or 5998 years - call it 6000 - in a period of 6000 years, 80 or 90 years is nothing much. And that is how short a time it has been since the horse-and-buggy day in my world. My father was born in that day (1909) and my paternal grandfather not only never owned an automobile but refused to ride in one. He claimed that they were spawn of the Devil, and used to quote passages from Ezekiel to prove it. Perhaps he was right.
But the horse-and-buggy era does have -shortcomings. There are obvious ones such as no inside plumbing, no air conditioning, no modern medicine. But for us there was an unobvious but major one; where there are no trucks and no cars there is effectively no hitchhiking. Oh, it is sometimes possible to hitch rides on farm wagons - but the difference in speed between a human's walk and a horse's walk is not great. We rode when we could but, either way, fifteen miles was a good day's progress - too good; it left no time to work for meals and a place to sleep.
There is an old paradox, Achilles and the Tortoise, in which the remaining distance to your goal is halved at each The question is: How long does it take to reach your goal? The answer is: You can't get there from here.
That is the way we 'progressed' from Oklahoma City to Joplin.
Something else compounded my frustration: I became increasingly persuaded that we were indeed in the latter days, and we could expect the return of Jesus and the Final Judgment at any moment - and my darling, my necessary one, was not yet back in the arms of Jesus. I refrained from nagging her about it, although it took all my will power to respect her wish to handle it alone. I began to sleep badly through worrying about her.
I became a bit crazy, too (in addition to my paranoid belief that these world changes were aimed at me personally) - crazy in that I acquired an unfounded but compelling belief that finishing this journey was essential to the safety of my darling's immortal soul. Just let us get as far as Kansas, dear Lord, and I will pray without ceasing until I have converted her and brought her to grace. 0 Lord God of Israel, grant me this boon!
I continued to look for dishwashing jobs (or anything) even while we still had silver and gold to trade' for local money. But motels disappeared entirely; hotels became scarce and restaurants decreased in numbers and size to fit an economy in which travel was rare and almost all meals were eaten at home.
It became easier to find jobs cleaning stalls in livery stables. I preferred dishwashing to shoveling horse manure - especially as I had only one pair of shoes. But I stuck to the rule of take any honest work but keep moving!
You may wonder why we did not shift to hitching rides on freight trains. In the first place I did not know how, never having done it. Still more important, I could not guarantee Marga's safety. There were the hazards of mounting a moving freight car. But worse were dangers from people: railroad bulls and road kids - hobos, tramps, bindlestiffs, bums. No need to discuss those grisly dangers, -as I kept her away from rail lines and hobo jungles.
And I worried. While abiding strictly to her request not to be pressured, I did take to praying aloud every night and in her presence, on my knees. And at last, to my great joy, my darling joined me, on her knees. She did not pray aloud and I stopped vocalizing myself, save for a final: 'In Jesus' name, Amen.' We still did not talk about it.
I wound up driving this horse and buggy (goodness,' what a hot day! - 'Cyclone weather', my grandmother Hergensheimer would have called it) as a result of a job cleaning stalls in a livery stable. As, usual I had quit after one day, telling my temporary employer that my wife and I had to move on to Joplin; her mother was ill.
He told me that he had a rig that needed to be returned to the next town up the road. What he meant was that he had too many rigs and nags on hand, his own and others, or he would have waited until he could send it back by renting it to a passing drummer.
I offered to return it for one day's wages at the same extremely low rate that he had paid me to shovel manure and curry nags.
He pointed out that he was doing me a favor, since my wife and I had to get to Joplin.
He had both logic and strength of position on his side; I agreed. But his wife did put up a lunch for us, as well as giving us breakfast after we slept in their shed.
So I was not too unhappy driving that rig, despite the weather, despite the frustrations. We were getting a few miles closer to Joplin every day - and now my darling was praying. It was beginning to look like 'Home Free!' after all.
We had just reached the outskirts of this town (Lowell? Racine? I wish I could remember) when we encountered something right straight out of my childhood: a camp meeting, an old-time revival. On the left side of the road was a cemetery, well kept but the grass was drying; facing it on the right was the revival tent, pitched in a pasture. I wondered whether the juxtaposition of graveyard and Bible meeting was accidental, or planned? - if the Reverend Danny had been involved, I would know it was planned; most people cannot see gravestones without thinking about the long hereafter.
Crowded ranks of buggies and farm wagons stood near the tent, and a temporary corral lay beyond them. Picnic tables of the plank-and-sawhorse type were by the tent on the other side; I could see remains of lunch. This was a serious Bible meeting, one that started in the morning, broke for lunch, carried on in the afternoon - would no doubt break for supper, then adjourn only when the revivalist judged that there were no more souls to be saved that day.
(I despise these modern city preachers with their five minute 'inspirational messages'. They say Billy Sunday could preach for seven hours on only a glass of water then do it again in the evening and the next day. No wonder heathen cults have spread like a green bay tree!)
There was a two-horse caravan near the tent. Painted on its side was: Brother 'Bible' Barnaby. Out front was a canvas sign on guys and stays:
That Old-Time Religion!
Brother 'Bible' Barnaby
Healing Every Session
10a.m. - 2p.m. - 7p.m.
Every Day from Sunday June 5th till
I spoke to the nag and pulled on the reins to let her know that I wanted to stop. 'Darling, look at that!'
Margrethe read the sign, made no comment.
'I admire his courage,' I said. 'Brother Barnaby is betting his reputation that Judgment Day will arrive before it's time to harvest wheat... which could be early this year, hot as it is.'
'But you think Judgment Day is soon.'
'Yes, but I'm not betting a professional reputation on it just my immortal soul and hope of Heaven. Marga, every Bible student reads the prophecies slightly differ ently. Or very differently. Most of the current crop of premillenarians don't expect the Day earlier than the year two thousand. He might have something. Do you mind if we, stay here an hour?'
'We will stay however long you wish. But - Alec, you wish me to go in? Must I?'
'Uh -' (Yes, darling, I certainly do want you to go inside.) 'You would rather wait in the buggy?'
Her silence was answer enough. 'I see. Marga, I'm not trying to twist your arm. Just one thing - We have not been separated except when utterly necessary for several weeks. And you know why. With the changes coming almost every day, I would hate to have one hit while you were sitting out here and I was inside, quite a way off. Uh, we could stand outside the tent. I see they have the sides rolled up.'
She squared her shoulders. 'I was being silly. No, we will go inside. Alec, I do need to hold your hand; you are right: Change comes fast. But I will not ask you to stay away from a meeting of your coreligionists.'
'Thank you, Marga.'
'And, Alec - I will try!'
'Thank you. Thank you loads! Amen!'
'No need to thank me. If you go to your Heaven, I want to go, too!'
'Let's go inside, dear.'
I put the buggy at the far end of a rank, then led the mare to the corral, Marga with me. As we came back to the tent I could hear:
'- the corner where you are!
'Brighten the corner where you are!
'Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar!
I chimed in: '- brighten the corner where you are!'
It felt good.
Their instrumental music consisted of a foot-pumped organ and a slide trombone. The latter surprised me but Pleased me; there is no other instrument that can get right down and rassle with The Holy City the way a trombone can, and it is almost indispensable for The Son of God Goes Forth to War.
The congregation was supported by a choir in white angel robes - a scratch choir, I surmised, as the white robes were homemade, from sheets. But what. that choir may have lacked in professionalism it made up for in zeal. Church music does not have to be good as long as it is sincere - and loud.
The sawdust trail, six feet wide, led straight down the middle, benches on each side. It dead-ended against a chancel rail of two-by-fours. An usher led us down the trail in answer to my hope for seats down front. The place was crowded but he got people to squeeze over and we wound up on the aisle in the second row, me outside. Yes there were still seats in the back, but every preacher despises people - their name is legion! - who sit clear at the back when there are seats open down front.
As the music stopped, Brother Barnaby stood up and came to the pulpit, placed his hand on the Bible. 'It's all in the Book,' he said quietly, almost in a whisper. The congregation became dead still.
He stepped forward, looked around. 'Who loves you?'
'Jesus loves me!'
'Let Him hear you.'
'JESUS LOVES ME!'
'How do you know that?'
'IT'S IN THE BOOK!'
I became aware of an odor I had not smelled in a long time. My professor of homiletics pointed out to us once in a workshop session that a congregation imbued with religious fervor has a strong and distinctive odor ('stink' is the word he used) compounded of sweat and both male and female hormones. 'My sons,' he told us, 'if your assembled congregation smells too sweet, you aren't getting to them. If you can't make 'em sweat, if they don't break out in their own musk like a cat in rut, you might as 'Well quit and go across the street to the papists. Religious ecstasy is the strongest human emotion; when- it's there, you can smell it!'
Brother Barnaby got to them.
(And, I must confess, I never did. That's why I wound up as an organizer and money-raiser.)
'Yes, it's in the Book. The Bible is the Word of God, not just here and there, but every word. Not as allegory, but as literal truth. You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free. I read to you now from the Book: "For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with-a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the Trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first."
'That last line is great news, my brothers and sisters:
"- the dead in Christ shall rise first." What does that say? It does not say that the dead shall rise first; it says that the dead in Christ shall rise first. Those who were washed in the blood of the Lamb, born again in Jesus, and then have died in a state of grace before His second coming, they will not be forgotten, they will be first. Their graves will open, they will be miraculously restored to life and health and physical perfection and will lead the parade to Heaven, there to dwell in happiness by the great white throne forevermore!'
Someone shouted, 'Hallelujah!'
'Bless you, sister. Ah, the good news! All the dead in Christ, every one! Sister Ellen, taken from her family by the cruel hand of cancer, but who died with the name of Jesus on her lips, she will help lead the procession. Asa's beloved wife, who died giving birth but in a state of grace, she will be there! All your dear ones who died in Christ will be gathered up and you will see them in Heaven. Brother Ben, who lived a sinful life, but found God in a foxhole before an enemy bullet cut him down, he will be there... and his case is specially good news, witnessing that God can be found anywhere. Jesus is present not only in churches - in fact there are fancy-Dan churches where His Name is rarely heard -'
'You- can say that again!'
'And I will. God is everywhere; He can hear you when you speak. He can hear you more easily when you are ploughing a field, or down on your knees by your bed, than He can in some ornate cathedral, surrounded by the painted and perfumed. He is here now, and He promises you, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you. I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me." That's His promise, dearly beloved, in plain words. No obscurities, no highfalutin "interpretation", no so-called "allegorical meanings". Christ Himself is waiting for you, if only you will ask.
'And if you do ask, if you are born again in Jesus, if He washes away your sins and you reach that state of grace... what then? I read you the first half of God's promise to the faithful. You will hear the Shout, you will hear the great Trumpet sounding His advent, as He promised, and t he dead in Christ shall rise again. Those dry bones will rise again and be covered with living, healthy flesh.
'Hear the words of the Lord: "Then we which are alive" - That's you and me, brothers and sisters; God is talking about us. "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord'!
'So shall we ever be! So shall we ever be! With the Lord in Heaven!'
'Bless His Name!'
(I found that I was one of those saying 'Amen!')
'But there's a price. There are no free tickets to Heaven. What happens if you don't ask Jesus to help you? What if you ignore. His offer to be washed free of sin and reborn in the blood of the Lamb? What then? Well? Answer me!'
The congregation was still save for heavy breathing, then a voice from the back said, not loudly, 'Hellfire.'
'Hellfire and damnation! Not for just a little while but through all eternity! Not some mystical, allegorical fire that singes only your peace of mind and burns no more than a Fourth of July sparkler. This is the real thing, a raging fire, as real as this.' Brother Barnaby slapped the pulpit with a crack that could be heard throughout the tent. 'The sort of fire that makes a baseburner glow cherry red, then white. And you are in that fire, Sinner, and the ghastly pain goes on and on, it never stops. Never! There's no hope for you. No use asking for a second chance. You've had your second chance... and your millionth chance. And more. For two thousand years sweet Jesus has been begging you, pleading with you, to accept from Him that for which He died in agony on the Cross to give you. So, once you are burning in that fiery Pit and trying to cough up the brimstone - that's sulfur, plain ordinary sulfur, burning and stinking, and it will burn your lungs and blister your sinful hide! - when you're roasting deep in the Pit for your sins, don't go whining about how dreadful it hurts and how you didn't know it would be like that. Jesus knows all about pain; He died on the Cross. He died for you. But you wouldn't listen and now you're down in the Pit and whining.
'And there you'll stay, suffering burning agony throughout eternity! Your whines can't be heard from down in the Pit; they are drowned out by the screams of billions of other sinners!'
Brother Barnaby lowered his voice to conversational level. 'Do you want ' to burn in the Pit?'
'No!' - 'Never!' - 'Jesus save us!'
'Jesus will save you, if you ask Him to. Those who died in Christ are saved, we read about them. Those alive when He returns will be saved if they are born again and remain in that state of grace. He promised us that He would return, and that Satan would be chained for- a thousand years while He rules in peace and justice here on earth. That's the Millennium, folks, that's the great day at hand. After that thousand years Satan will be loosed for a little while and the final battle will be fought. There'll be war in Heaven. The Archangel Michael will be the general for our side, leading God's angels against the Dragon - that's Satan again - and his host of fallen angels. And Satan lost - will lose, that is, a thousand years, from now. And nevermore will he be seen in Heaven.
'But that's a thousand years from now, dear friends. You will live to see it... if you accept Jesus and are born again before that Trumpet blast that signals His return. When will that be? Soon, soon! What does the Book say? In the Bible God tells you not once but many times, in Isaiah, in Daniel, in Ezekiel, and in. all four of the Gospels, that you will not be told the exact hour of. His return. Why? So you can't sweep the dirt under the rug, that's why! If He told you that He would arrive New Year's Day the year two thousand, there are those who would spend the next five and a half years consorting with lewd women, worshiping strange gods, breaking every one of the Ten Commandments... then, sometime Christmas Week nineteen ninety-nine you would find them in church, crying repentance, trying to make a deal.
'No siree Bob! No cheap deals. It's the same price to everyone. The Shout and the Trump may be months away... or you may hear it before I can finish this sentence. It's up to you to be ready when it comes.
'But we know that it is coming soon. How? Again it's in the Book. Signs and portents. The first, without which the rest cannot happen, is the return of the Children of Israel to the Promised Land - see Ezekiel, see Matthew, see today's newspapers. They rebuild the Temple... and sure enough they have; it's in the Kansas City Star. There be other signs and portents, wonders of all sorts - but the greatest are tribulations, trials to test the souls of men the way Job was tested. Can there be a better word to describe the twentieth century than "tribulations"?
`Wars and terrorists and assassinations and fires and plagues. And more wars. Never in history has mankind been tried so bitterly. But endure as Job endured and the end is happiness and eternal peace - the peace of God, which passeth all understanding. He offers you His hand, He loves you, He will save you.'
Brother Barnaby stopped and wiped his forehead with a large handkerchief that was already soggy from such use.
The choir (perhaps at a signal. from him) started singing softly, 'We shall gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river, that flows by the throne of God and presently segued into:
'Just as I am, without one plea -'
Brother Barnaby got down on one knee and held out his arms to us. 'Please! Won't you answer Him? Come, accept Jesus, let Him gather you in His arms -'
The choir continued softly with:
'But that Thy blood was shed for me,
'And Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
'0 Lamb of God, I come, I come!'
And the Holy Ghost descended.
I felt Him overpower me and the joy of Jesus filled my heart. I stood up and stepped out into the aisle. Only then did I remember that I had Margrethe with me. I turned and saw her staring back at me, her face filled with a sweet and deeply serious look. 'Come, darling,' I whispered, and led her into the aisle. Together we went down the sawdust trail to God.
There were others ahead of us at the chancel rail. I found us a place, pushed some crutches and a truss aside, and knelt down. I placed my right hand on the rail, rested my forehead on it, while I continued to hold Marga's hand with my left. I prayed Jesus to wash away our sins and receive us into His arms.
One of Brother Barnaby's helpers was whispering inter my ear. 'How is it with you, brother?'
'I'm fine,' I said happily, 'and so is my wife. Help someone who needs it.'
'Bless you, brother.' He moved on. A sister farther down was writhing and speaking in tongues; he stopped lo comfort her.
I bowed my head again, then became aware of neighing And loud squeals of frightened horses and a great-flapping and shaking of the canvas roof above us. I looked up and saw a split start and widen, then the canvas blew away. The ground trembled, the sky was dark.
The Trump shook my bones, the Shout was the loudest ever heard, joyous and triumphant. I helped Margrethe to her feet smiled at her. 'It's now, darling!'
We were swept up.
We were tumbled head over heels and tossed about by a funnel cloud, a Kansas twister. I was wrenched away from Marga and tried to twist back, but could not. You can't swim in a twister; you go where it takes you. But I knew she was safe.
The storm turned me upside down and held me there for a long moment, about two hundred feet up. The horses had broken out of the corral, and some of the people, not caught up, were milling about. The force of the twister turned me again and I stared down at the cemetery.
The graves were opening.