Zombie life and New life in Christ

Sermon preached at St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA

by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey, April 4, 2021

The Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord: Easter Sunday

 

Mark 16:1-8: When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

1 Corinthians 15:1-11: I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

The darkness of our hearts in this long lent gives way to the light of Christ at Easter. God breaks into human history in Jesus to live and die and rise again, to conquer sin and death and give us new life in him. This is the Good News of Easter.

 

This has been a long year of Lent, hasn’t it? In all the turmoil and unrest, in all the surreal living of this pandemic, I come to Easter thinking about something that perhaps you all are thinking about. That’s right: Zombies. Zombies, the undead stars of countless dystopian films, forecasting a future of corruption and decay of human society and human life.

 

In the past twenty years especially, the dystopian apocalypse has become a popular theme in books, TV shows and especially movies. Instead of a bright and shiny future, we imagine a crumbling, self-destructive society where we revert to animals at their worst. Somehow, we have come to embrace this dystopian future. We’ve come to feel that this despair is somehow inevitable for us. We’re drawn to the idea that the systems and institutions of society are corrupt and crumbling, that our mutual endeavor will collapse and eventually, we’ll each have to fend for ourselves. Somehow we’ve resigned ourselves to the dystopian future, and we adopt a kind of zombie living ourselves.

 

It’s odd that we see this happening in society and yet we offer no alternative vision. We continue to participate in this society, and perhaps in the very things we think contribute to this decay. But at some point, dystopia starts to hit home. Then where do we turn? When the banks fail, when rioters storm the streets and the capital, when the whole world is locked down with a pandemic, then where do we turn for our future?

 

First century Jews faced a kind of dystopian living, though more from Roman occupation than from attacks of the undead. God’s holy people were occupied by a pagan power, marginalizing faith in the true God, even controlling Jerusalem, stealing the living of the poor in tax collecting, crushing opposition, leaving the people hopeless. Even the Temple rulers and the Jewish kings were corrupt partners with Rome in this 1st century dystopia. Judean peasants prayed for a way out of this zombie living.

 

Then something changed. The change wasn’t quite what they had hoped for. No, there was no warrior champion riding in to bring a new political party to power. The change didn’t kick out the Romans from the Holy Land. But the change was the beginning of the remaking of this dystopia into the kingdom of God. God entered human history and gave the full measure of his love for humanity in giving himself for us that we might have new life in him.

 

In Jesus, God revealed himself to the world. He taught a new vision, that the kingdom of God was at hand, breaking into this world, despite the powers of darkness. Even when the temple rulers and the Romans arrested Jesus and put him to death on a cross, this human evil would not overcome the power of God.

 

On the first day of the week, women came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. But he was not there. Angels gave the news: that he has risen from the dead. The women returned, and as we read later in Mark and in the other Gospel accounts, they brought Peter and John back to the tomb. Jesus, risen from the dead, appeared to Mary Magdalene first, and she brought the news to the other disciples. Jesus appeared to two on the road to Emmaus, then to the twelve and then others saw the risen Lord.

 

The encounter of the empty tomb was the beginning of their experience of the risen Lord. Jesus was risen, but the full impact of that event grew gradually in their lives. They came together in hope and joy. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they shared the good news and lived this new life that transcended the zombie life of Roman occupation. Eventually, this new life even conquered Rome and spread around the world, bringing hope and new life to a world in dystopian darkness. The risen Lord Jesus brings new life in him.

 

This new life in Christ is different from the typical life we see and often live. This new life in Christ is to “normal life” what “normal life” is to zombie living. Our normal life seems to be slipping more and more toward this dystopian mindset, leaving us more like zombies than like living people. Struggling with our challenges in life, we get stuck in our cynicism until we reach that undead state of just moving forward. We used to be alive and relational, able to give and receive love, but now the end state of this dystopian mindset is zombie living. Think about what we know about zombies from the movies. Zombie living is lifeless, compassionless, relentlessly driven, but without meaning, without purpose, a ravenous pursuit to consume others, heedless of the damage to ourselves in the process. We call zombies the undead, but this is really un-living.

 

In the middle of this dystopian world, Jesus offers us new life. Jesus offers us a life that transcends dystopia. We are instead driven with meaning, animated by God’s purpose, alive with the Holy Spirit of God. Instead of permanently undead and unliving, in Christ, eternal life begins in this world, changing us and strengthening us for a life stronger than death. Instead of reckless damage, we live in passionate generosity, spreading not zombie contagion, but the vitality of a new life in Christ.

 

I know a man who has been in business for a while. He grew up in the church, but life has a way of discouraging you, and it certainly discouraged him. Grieving the death of his son, he had too much pain to listen to God or for God. So he drifted closer and closer to the zombie life. Then, coaxed by his wife, he looked back toward God. He opened more of himself to God’s grace. He brought even the painful parts of his past to God for healing. He still grieves, but like the disciples on Easter morning, he was just beginning his experience of the risen Christ. He began to pray again, he built Christian friendships who encouraged him and shared this new life with him. He found meaning and purpose in God’s eyes, he found joy even in hardship, he found hope even in the face of his own mortality. Even battling illness, he refused the zombie life, and instead embraced a new life in Christ.

 

Instead of lifelessness, he found vitality, instead of drifting, he found purpose, instead of cynicism and despair, he found meaning and hope, instead of an inward and downward cycle, he found a passionate generosity of living for others, empowered by the Holy Spirit and alive in God who loves him. He turned away from the undead and unliving zombie life and toward the new life in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

 

This new life is yours the more and more you open yourself to the risen Jesus. Seek God in prayer and reading scripture. Share life with others who pray and study and seek God together. Reach out to share the grace you have found: not zombie living, but resurrection living in a new life in Christ.

 

Jesus is no zombie. Jesus is a living man and living God who renews us with a life that will never die, a life that transcends the hardships this dystopian world can dish out, and gives us a vision for resurrection living. This is the Easter Good News: because Jesus is alive, we can be alive in Christ.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!