Saturday, April 30, 2011

Was Jesus a Zombie?

Was Jesus a Zombie? In the days following Easter, when we celebrate Jesus Christ's victory over death, it has struck me that  many people seem to think that Jesus is little more than a benign character from an George Romero movie. This has led me to ask: What is the difference between Jesus and a Zombie? (Note: I intentionally include two pretty peculiar pictures taken from the web: I intend them to be provocative, not offensive. For another take on this topic, you can follow this link to the Atheist Experience)

A gross misunderstanding of who Jesus is. 
Zombies, at least as we think of them post-1960's, are the un-dead, women and men who have died and have been reanimated. Life as they knew it has ended. For the zombie, they seem driven solely by an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Whether they stumble and limp (Night of the Living Dead) or run with alarming speed (28 Days Later), zombies are possessed of a single mission: to eat humans.

Why are Zombies so frightening? Well, for starters, they look just like us. Perhaps, even, we see in them a reflection of our own dark natures: creatures capable of unspeakable horrors committed against members of the human family. It is not surprising to me that in the wake of the Shoah we see George Romero's classic film and the genre it spawned: these are, or were, human beings actually feasting on the flesh of others, those who would appear to be human taken by a dark force that leads them to commit atrocities against the innocent. There is something paralyzing about the idea of mindless, unfeeling, ravenous killers marching across hill and valley, breaking in doors and smashing  windows, seeking only our death and destruction.

As a zombie-film aficionado, I often encounter the chillingly touching scene when a young woman  encounters a former beau-turned-zombie. At first, she recognizes her boyfriend as he stumbles toward her. Vain hope, rather than sound reason, compels her to stay put and keep calling out his name until, well, it's too late: the boyfriend's new idea of 'necking' is to bite into her carotid artery and tear out her throat! Her recognition of who he truly is comes too late, leading her toward her own journey of un-death.

The Zombie shows us one side, or one shape, of death. This is the side of hopelessness, of human life succumbing to a darkness that, quite literally, feeds on human life. It is death that truly governs human life and death's heralds arise from the grave to remind us of the meaninglessness of our existence. The monster comes not from another planet, but from our own and that monster is us. Inside each of us, the Zombie seems to say, is a gnawing hunger for more death. Death begets death and, as people fall prey to the zombie, they join ranks...begetting more death. With each new victim, death's grip on humanity grows stronger and stronger. Why fight it? Why bar your windows and seal your doors? For, after all, death is going to triumph. Join in the Feast Of Flesh, either eat or be eaten...

A Parody of the Last Supper. Interesting, isn't it, that Christ is still central for Zombies?
Perhaps it is the notion of the Zombie that makes the reception of the Good News so difficult! For in Jesus, we have the anti-zombie. The Gospels are rather clear that Jesus' friends and disciples did not immediately recognize him: he did not resume his old life, did not put on his old clothes, did not go back to business as usual. He is more fully alive, no longer bound by the constraints of time and space. He is more fully human, rather than less. An encounter with the Risen Christ does not lead us into a chilling way of being dead. Instead, it invites us into a courageous way of being alive.

Look to the Gospels scenes, especially John and Luke. In the Garden, Mary of Magdala does not recognize Jesus at all even though he stands before her; in Luke, on the Road to Emmaus, the disciples walk with the Risen Lord but do not realize who it is. It is only after he reveals himself to them that they are brought to a new understanding, a new life of mission. Whereas an encounter with a horde of zombies drives women and men into seclusion, barring the doors and praying for life, the encounter with Jesus Christ impels them out of hiding into a world where they preach the Good News as they face death. While zombies bring to the forefront of the mind the reality of death, Jesus affirms the preeminence of life.


The inversion of the Zombie Myth: The Risen Christ
The Christian understanding of Jesus is decidedly anti-zombie. Jesus is now more human, now more fully alive, because he has been raised by the Father. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is for life, rather than against it. Think back again to the Resurrection accounts: Jesus does not come to take the flesh of the disciples and apostles. Indeed, he offers his own flesh to Thomas to show him that it really is him, that there is a continuity-in-difference! This is Jesus, raised from the clutches of death, who brings us new life. He does not break down doors but passes through them; he does not bring a message of destruction and devastation but, rather, Shalom or peace.

Jesus and Zombies touch on a central reality of human life: death. Depending on your stance, each is a parody of the other. The zombie genre mocks the idea that there is hope-through-death, is skeptical of the meaning of human life: for will not our own flesh be consumed by those who were once very much like us? The story of Jesus take the opposite tactic: death is a reality we each must face, but it is not what defines us. Life, not death, has the final word in our lives. Jesus' resurrection isn't a cosmic Zombie show. It is, rather, the final ratification of Jesus' life and ministry in and through which God shows us just who Jesus really is: the creative Word made Flesh who is defined by God's life rather than the death inflicted upon him by sinful humanity. Hope and life, and not death and despair, are the ultimate horizons of human life. In our own world that is so often beset with grim news and suffers from an ever-deepening sense of weariness, perhaps the Good News of Jesus, the anti-zombie, is what we need more than ever.
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