Homily for the 4th Sunday of Pentecost, June 9, 2013
CONFRONTING THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
You’ve seen them – the ones with the vacant stare, the slow, aimless, shuffling walk, the dirty and ragged clothing. No – I’m not talking about high school students on their way to school – I’m talking about zombies. And apparently, the world is overrun with them.
The prestigious Brown University this summer is offering a course called “Zombie As Metaphor.” The course outline says: “This course will introduce students to recent U.S. intellectual history by examining the changing “evils” as represented by zombies in popular culture.
What can the living dead tell us about the living? … This course will examine the evolution of the zombie as a metaphor in popular culture, and address why and how that evolution occurred. This involves not just a critical analysis of zombie films and associated fiction, but also a deeper reflection upon the changing (and challenging) social landscape that gave rise to this genre.”
It shouldn’t be surprising to see the subject of zombies in a university curriculum, because, for many years, it has been showing up as a major theme in the entertainment media. The Walking Dead is one of the most successful shows on TV, and there are many other movies and TV series such as Zombieland, Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Army of Darkness, the “classic” Bite Me, and this summer’s mega-shocker, World War Z.
A Zombie, by definition, is someone who looks human, but is largely devoid of human qualities; a dead person who continues to walk around, but isn’t really alive – according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a zombie is “a person who is or appears lifeless, apathetic, or completely unresponsive to their surroundings.”
At the Resurrection, humankind was offered the promise of new life triumphant over death. At Pentecost, by God’s Spirit, people were enabled to connect, to communicate and relate to each other. In zombie mode, people are oblivious to each other, and don’t know how to relate in life-giving ways – instead, they prey on each other.
The Zombie Apocalypse is a comment about how much fear — fear of disaster, fear of the unknown, fear of death – can limit our lives, and our responses to things, and drive us toward violence or escapism (fight or flight). Christianity says “Love your neighbour as yourself” – a zombie society says “Kill your neighbour – she may be infected.” Zombies show us in blatant terms what it looks like when people have lost their humanity.
Zombies are a metaphor for our catatonic, anti-social way of being, revealing the danger of narcotizing ourselves and becoming afraid of actually feeling anything, choosing instead to walk around numbed by drugs, alcohol, denial or other distractions like TV, Internet or smartphones (there is nothing so quintessentially zombie as shuffling slowly across a busy intersection, oblivious to everything except the little screen on the phone).
The Zombie metaphor is a comment on how we have given way to our basest instincts and behaviours – a comment on how many people have become unconcerned about anything beyond their next meal, or their next purchase. The zombie movie “Dawn of the Dead” very symbolically plays out in a shopping mall. As such, it is a statement about consumer culture, the mindless, drooling, “must have it” compulsion. Many times we don’t even seem to know why we do what we do – does that make us zombies?
St Paul suggested there are ways you can discern whether someone is in Christ by certain signs, like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22,23). In a similar spirit of pastoral concern, I offer you some warning signs that suggest you might be a zombie:
If you say “Boring!” more than five times a day, you might be a zombie
If you find yourself saying “I don’t care” about things that are really important, you might be a zombie
If you can’t be bothered articulating beyond a mumble, you might be a zombie
If you can’t think of anything to do except go to the mall and shuffle around, you might be a zombie
If you notice that the company that you are keeping seems really dead, you might be a zombie
If you look in the mirror and notice that your face seems to have collapsed into a permanent frown, you may be a zombie
If the worship of God does not fill you with joy and hope and purpose, and maybe a smile, you might be a zombie
Today, we might do well to reflect on the question which confronted those who went looking for the dead body of Jesus but found the empty tomb instead: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
Maybe worst of all, the Zombie Apocalypse is a sign of how many people have simply given up on trying to build toward a better society – a comment on the sense of impending doom and overwhelming evil that causes people just to live for the present moment and to spend all their efforts trying to gratify their cravings. Zombies don’t care that there are people starving in Africa or people homeless just blocks away – they just want to know where the nearest Wal-Mart or McDonald’s is.
What is the life-giving response?
Rooted in the compassion of Christ, to dare to stand in the way of the pathways that lead to death. To speak life to those already well on their way to the tomb. To live in Resurrection-mode and to radiate that life to everyone we encounter.
One of the most consistent messages of scripture is: Choose life! In our time, we are being challenged to choose the way we relate to others and to the planet itself; we are being challenged to care, to become aware of our context, and to challenge the status quo. The world needs people who are alive to do this. I believe this is a role the Church needs to play in the modern world.
The Church is in the resurrection business because Jesus is about life – the true anti-dote to the zombie apocalypse, the social plague of our day. As Mahalia Jackson said so rightly: “The Lord doesn’t like us to be dead. Be alive. Sometimes I dance to the glory of the Lord, because He said so.”
Today’s readings remind us of the promise of life, even when it seems that death is the only possible option – they are accounts of transformation from death to life. St Paul, who had experienced that transformation, said: “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Romans 6:13). That is the essence of the Eucharist we celebrate week by week.
The world today needs a robust and life-giving Christianity, not an insipid, inward-looking and self-serving institution. “Be hot or cold,” the Bible says – be either fully alive or fully dead – but not the lukewarm, not-quite-alive entity that we seem to be seeing so much of lately. Refuse to be a zombie! Howard Thurman once said “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” If the world is indeed full of zombies, people shuffling around without purpose, not really alive, let us choose the way of Resurrection – and continue to listen for the voice – and be the voice — of the One who brings people to life.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+
RCL appointed readings
1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.
She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”
Psalm 146 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long. Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!
Galatians 1:11-24 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.
I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
Luke 7:11-17 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.