On Easter Sunday, when we were still worshipping on Zoom, I walked from my apartment to the church to join the service from my office. As I made my way down 9th Avenue, I registered a person seated outside our gate. As I got closer, I saw that it was a woman and that she was distressed. She was rocking back and forth, holding her head in her hands and crying. Approaching the church, I started to make out what she was saying: “I need help!” she cried. “I need help in Jesus’ name.”
At about a block away, I could hear her start a litany as I approached. “Help! Not in Biden’s name, in Jesus’ name! Help! Not in Trump’s name, in Jesus’ name! Help! Not in DeBlasio’s name, in Jesus’ name!” When I got to the front gate, I told her who I was and asked if there was anything I could do for her. She wanted to pray, which was easily done. She asked for some food, which was easily provided with a Pantry bag from inside the church.
All this took about 20 minutes. Over the course of that time, her breathing had regulated. She thanked me for the food. We had one more prayer together and she set off walking down 28th Street toward 10th Avenue. The contact and the conversation helped, as did the granola bar she ate from her Pantry bag, I’m sure. But it was the prayer that centered her—it didn’t make her struggles dissappear, but in that moment it strengthened her to move into whatever was next.
As our Prayer Book reminds us, “Our help is in the name of the Lord; the maker of heaven and earth.” I have not seen the woman since, but I have never forgotten her longing for Jesus at the gate of our church. On Easter Sunday, no less! And I will always remember how, in her distress, she knew that the powers and principalities of this world were not of ultimate importance; her words were a reminder that political leaders can be helpful in practical matters when they so choose, but that our very being depends on the power of God in Jesus Christ.