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Pentecost 11: rise of the living dead

RCL Lections for August 24 2004

Zombie

I wonder how many are going to preach on the epistle (Romans 12:1-8) this week? I suppose even fewer might reference zombies in the process. However the injunction by Apostle Paul to “present our bodies a living sacrifice implies more than a bit of tension between life and death, especially when we remember that until the destruction of the temple, the term sacrifice usually meant something was killed until it was dead. Read this way bodies that are living sacrifices must be those who are alive but who are nonetheless and paradoxically also dead; AKA the living dead or the undead.

The Hebrew notions of holiness (Kodesh) and ritual impurity are related to those things which have more or less potential or tendency toward life or death.  Great freedom seems to be given to God’s people to choose between them. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity … choose life so that you and your descendants may live, …” (Deuteronomy 30:15 – 20).  From Genesis onward it is apparent that created life was not designed to be unbounded.  The Scriptures repeatedly warn  that “living” the selfish quest for immortality on our own terms ironically leads to death rather than life.  In the liturgical cycle of the great Jewish feasts the celebration of liberation and freedom (Passover) is followed the celebration of receiving Torah, God’s laws which complement and enclose that freedom with telos: purpose and responsibility.  Our Prayer Book speaks of a God, in  “whose service is perfect freedom.”  

Acceptance of God’s limitations turns into the fullest experience of LIFE, even though, to our pride, the transfer from self-reliant independence to trust in God may feel like death.  It is popular for celebrity achievers and motivational speakers to hype the development of human potental.  But the danger of unlimited “development” may be illustrated by cancer, which can be described as cells intending to grow and multiply without regard for others, even if it brings death to the very system that supports them.  Sounds a bit like the ecological exploitation that keeps industrial capitalism working doesn’t it?  Ever wonder what cancer cures the creator might have in mind?

Christian theology is rife with this paradox: the relationship between life and death and the possibility of being under the influences of both simultaneously. I don’t follow it closely but perhaps the pop culture related to zombies merits some theological reflection. (Kyle, how about it ?). One of my Old Testament professors has written a novel about zombies but I have yet to personally discuss with him its theological themes.

Before everyone dismisses the zombie metaphor as simply silly, we might observe that the tenaciousness of zombies to achieve their goals in spite risks to their own safety would be considered admirable in sports or business heroes. So perhaps Christians are called to be sort of reverse-zombies (would that be Eibmozes?).  Whereas the motivation of zombies seems reduced to a hunger to consume others, the kind of living-dead experience of Christians is supposed to be laying down one’s life for purposes that are beyond the carnal desire to consume.  Maybe it is not so much a living-death as a dying life?

Indeed this paradox has numerous expressions. It has been called the “Crucified Life” by A. W. Tozer and Charles Stanley, “Born Crucified” by L. E. Maxwell, and “The Surrendered Life” by Oswald Chambers.   Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship says “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The Peace Prayer that came to be associated with Francis of Assisi concludes: “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

The authority of the Apostle allows Paul get away with saying: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20). But let’s admit it, there are probably some we would consider justifiably institutionalized and medicated for believing and saying that kind of thing.  Of course all these expressions of the Paradox of Christian life are rooted in Jesus’ own teaching: “… those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

The way zombies walk seems often an identifying feature. The way the followers of Jesus “walk” is also supposed  to be  influenced by their near-death experience with Christ: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Love is the thing that makes this kind of living different than “just getting up each day and walking around” as the  Ian and Sylvia song declares.

Thinking back to the discussion around Tay’s post about fear and control, we might ask: does the fullness of LIFE come from being in control or from the kind of surrender that takes risks even in the presence of fear ?

Like zombies the power that animates Christians (in our case the shared resurrection life of Christ) is beyond natural explanation. But unlike zombies, Christians seem to have a choice in how much they surrender to that animating power.  This means that trying to live like a reverse-zombie isn’t easy.  There was a saying in the days of the Jesus People: “the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.”

About Dell Bornowsky

I have been a farm boy, woodworker, and building maintenance consultant. Prior to Anglican, my formation was in Roman Catholic, Jesus People, Baptist and Pentecostal tribes. I am interested in cultures, philosophy, mysticism, and wilderness travel. I am a husband and father. I believe creation is good, that God acts in material history, and that ancient wisdom may be more relevant than we realize. Presently Rector of St Philip in Regina.
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3 Responses to Pentecost 11: rise of the living dead

  1. Now I wish I were preaching this Sunday. Thanks for the reflection!

  2. Dawn Leger

    When I think of zombies I think about their hunger. Their tenacity is rooted in their unsatisfiable hunger. And once they eat, they remain hungry.

    The question then is how do we satisfy that hunger? Not by consuming, but by offering ourselves to be consumed…

    • Dawn, yes, …another aspect of the paradox: “Blessed are those hungry …for righteousness!” sez Jesus. I am not familiar enough with the genre to know if zombies are ever satisfied (what happens when they get full?). But of course humans have the same insatiability. We usually get hungry every day no matter how much we have consumed the day before. It is not the ravenous nature of zombies that ought to frighten, only their choice of cuisine. Is Jesus saying our hunger for righteousness is also (ought to be) a daily recurring quest akin to physical hunger ? Do we need a new meal of righteousness every day to be satisfied? Ironically we call being “satisfied” without eating, an “eating” disorder. Perhaps spiritual anorexia is the more significant dysfunction in our culture ?

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