And the dead shall be raised.

The Bible says that.

Naturally, it's easier to raise the living, especially traveling city to city preaching the word like the Rev. Gene Ewing preached it last night to a full Constitution Hall, thousands of people staring past his hands blurring in the spotlight as he flung them at the ceiling and the the ground (i.e., heaven and hell, which we have to choose between).

They were staring at the coffin. They knew something was going to be raised, but they weren't all sure what.

"DON'T COME IF YOU FAINT EASILY," said the tickets, with the face of Rev. Gene Ewing looking worried and holding an open Bible with one hand and touching it with the fingernails of the other.Turn it over, and there was a picture of the coffin, very fancy, like the kind they bury Mafiosi in. With somebody inside it.

A flyer bore the warning: "There will be a casket, pallbearers and everything."

"You seen the Rev. Ewing?" said a little old man before the service began.

His fingers were twisted up with arthritis and he was carrying a letter. "See this letter? He's looking for me. He wanted to see me tonight."

Somebody explained that the Rev. Ewing sends out quite a few of these letters, but the old man had read it himself: "Your address keeps COMING TO MY MIND!. . . . I just keep feeling a deep burden for someone there at . . ." and then it had the old man's address typed out there, and on the other side, in hand lettering: "I'll be looking for you!! Rev. Gene Ewing" with a little circle drawn over the "i."

Outside on the steps a man said he was coming because of the children getting killed in Atlanta. "It doesn't make any difference that the minister and his people are white."

"We're all alike in Christ," said a woman from Riverdale named B. Austin.

There were so few whites there that people in the crowd kept assuming the few that were there were part of the staff, and asked them for directions or information.

Renita Smith and Darlene Stroman of Northwest Washington both said, "We came for a blessing."

A woman who wasn't telling her identity, except that she was a Methodist from Northwest, said: "It arouses your curiosity when the thing they send around says, 'You got a bad heart, stay home.'"

Backstage, a supply of young guys with big shoulders and little eyes wouldn't answer any questions at all.

You got the feeling that they'd been asked a lot of questions about the coffin and raising the dead and they hadn't answered any of them. Nobody liked talking. "My name is Randy Frank, but that's all I know," said Randy Frank, who opened the service by saying he had a feeling that "tonight is going to be a special night for somebody."

Randy Frank plays Ed McMahon to Rev. Gene Ewing's Johnny Carson.

Rev. Ewing sidled on stage while a couple of choral groups cranked up the crowd to a happy fervor.

Then he moved to the microphone and started talking so low and earnest you could hardly hear him: "How many loves the Lord with all their heart? How many is not ashamed of Jesus?"

He introduced Mrs. Joe Louis, wife of the former heavyweight champion, and said, "Joe and Martha Louis have been friends of mine for 15 years."

That's about it in the celebrity line, though. "I don't know Frank Sinatra," he said. "I don't know a lot of big shots. But I know Jesus."

And he said he didn't "know split beans from coffee about politics" but crime was up and faith was down, and "we all need to start going back to the old black-back Bible."

He got fired up and started yelling and heaving his finger at the ceiling. He'd crouch and whip hid microphone cord around. He talked about jobs and saying "farewell to welfare" and the Devil and his mother's leg ailment, and then they held the collection.

After that he said, he'd do the 15-minute "world-famous illustrated sermon, Raising the Dead."

He had a single spotlight put on him, he asked for complete silence in the crowd, like the guy in the guy in the circus who shoots the cigarette out of the girl's mouth. He took off his coat and laid into it, death and damnation, "You say: 'I don't want to think about dying! But everybody that breathes is going to die! One day they will bury you! They will bury me! A drunkard ran over my dad and killed him!"

Amen.

Meanwhile, Joyce Jacobs, a housewife from Northeast, climbed up the steps and told an onlooker: "If a blond woman gets out of that casket, she just got in there. I was downstairs, I seen a man and a blond-haired woman go into the room with that casket, but only the man came out.Least they could do would be they'd have somebody old in there that look like they died. But we'll see. We sure enough will."

Randy Frank was wandering around with the kind of compressed-air horn that bicyclists and boaters carry. And the Rev. Gene Ewing was on his knees, on fire with the word of the Lord: "My mother has gone to God. My father has gone to God! And somewhere there's a coffin for you, somewhere there's a coffin!"

Sure enough, four pallbearers brought out a gray coffin, not as fancy as the one in the picture. They put it on stage. Another minister moved forward and started a funeral service over it: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered to pay our respects to one who has gone before."

But Rev. Ewing couldn't stay away. No coat, his necktie pulled down, he got hold of the microphone and started shouting about that "great gettin' up morning when you know that Jesus has come after his own. Where will you spend eternity when the trumpet sounds? When the trumpet sounds you'll have time to die. But there's resurrection morning! The trumpet will sound! A strange sound! A strange trumpet will sound!"

The air horn cut loose, and a blond woman in a white robe boomed on out of the coffin, raised her hands and ambled off into the wings, escorted by a bodyguard-type as if she might be fragile so soon after her resurrection.

Joyce Jacobs said it was the same blond. "How do I feel? How do you think I feel? I feel disappointed."

'she'd come seeking a blessing, she said, and all she got was a blond.

The rest of the crowd seemed to enjoy it, though. After all, when it come to resurrections, the living are the next best thing to the dead.