Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How to survive the Zombie Jesus apocalypse

John 20: 19-31
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE 

April 12, 2015 (Bright Sunday)

            First off, I have to give credit for the title of this little meditation to our very creative administrative assistant, Barbara Graham. A few weeks ago I was describing to her the scene in the gospel of John with Jesus’ disciple Thomas, his morbid request to put his hand in Jesus’ resurrected side, and that this scripture always falls on the Sunday after Easter, when we now celebrate Bright Sunday with humor. Without so much as a beat or batting an eyelash, she said, “Sounds to me like how to survive the zombie Jesus apocalypse!” Then a little light bulb went on above my head.

            Zombie culture is popular right now and has been for the last decade or so. It went underground (if you’ll pardon the pun) in the mid ‘80’s after enjoying another decadent decade following the shocking debut of the 1968 movie “Night of the Living Dead”. Turns out that currently there are many who look at Easter as that day when Christians worship a zombie Jesus, that the resurrection is nothing more than zombie Jesus back from the dead. There are websites, videos, comics, even swag proclaiming Zombie Jesus Day. One photo I saw online was of a young woman dressed as a zombie nun, holding a sign that read, “Jesus died for your sins. He’s back for your brains.” I’m sure there are many who think that we who see truth in the resurrection have checked our brains at the door and handed them over to Jesus.

            To some of you this may sound more than just irreverent but sacrilegious. The whole notion of Bright or Holy Humor Sunday can be unseemly to some Christians. But for centuries, in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions, Easter Monday and Bright Sunday were observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Parishioners and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, sang and danced. It was a time for clergy and laypeople to tell jokes, with no other agenda than to worship God by having some fun. The custom of Easter Monday and Bright Sunday celebrations were rooted in the musings of early church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Easter was "God's supreme joke played on death," when Jesus became the Life of the party. The early theologians called it "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh.”

          One component of humor is to push at the line of what’s funny, especially at our own tradition, our own expense. What it does is to make a little more room inside us: room for love, forgiveness, acceptance, peace, joy. So how do we survive this zombie Jesus apocalypse?

          Well, first of all, the risen Jesus wishes them peace. Zombies never do this. They wreak havoc and terror instead. Jesus also breathes the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, on to his disciples, giving them the power to forgive sins. For the gospel of John, this is the Pentecost event. Zombies are more into murder and mayhem. Nope, no zombies here.

          But Thomas wants to see the mark of the nails, to touch Jesus’ wounded hands, and put his own hand in Jesus’ side. That does sound pretty zombie-like. Jesus is also quoted in the gospel of John as having said, “Those who drink my blood and eat my flesh, live in me and I in them.” Yuck! That’s about as close to Night of the Living Dead as I want to get.

          The risen Jesus isn’t a zombie back from the dead or just some high-minded ideal or a philosophical concept. He is risen in a living, breathing body. In all the stories of the resurrection, his body is missing from the tomb not because of literal reasons but because of experiential ones. Death is not the last word. Resurrection, new life, is experienced in the body, in our bodies, imperfect as they are—now, as we are living and breathing. Every day we experience resurrection when we wake up in the morning, and we breathe in and out. It’s just that most days we take it for granted. There are times we go through our days like zombies, mindlessly performing our routine, going through the motions, forking over our brains without thinking. Why do we seek the living among the dead? We forget what a miracle we are, the miraculous world we live in.

         We experience resurrection not only in our bodies but corporately, in this body, the Body of Christ, imperfect as it is. A couple of weeks ago I had a dream about us, about this church. We were standing in our closing circle, but in a room where the walls were painted a warm, golden color. I was moving around the inside of the circle, each of you with prayer hands, and I was holding your hands in mine. My hands were hot, like irons, and I felt compelled to share this fire inside me with you, or else I would become flame. As I held each of your hands, the warmth, the heat from my hands spread to yours, warming the blood in your veins and arteries, flooding your whole body, your faces flushed with warmth. With each of you I could see in your eyes that what you were experiencing, what you were feeling, what was flowing through your whole being was tenderness, love, compassion, welling up from within you, for you, a holy love for yourself. Some of you were skeptical, some of you were tentative. You weren’t sure what was happening—I wasn’t sure what or how it was happening. But we were all hungry for it; it felt like resurrection, like new life.

        Jesus wasn’t a zombie, and we don’t have to be either. Easter isn’t just one day. (Here’s a spoiler: neither is Christmas.) Every day we are blessed to be in this body, and in this Body, is Easter. Every day is a second chance. Every day is resurrection day. Yes, yes, and yes!

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