Sunday, March 13, 2016

Jesus saves us from the zombie apocalypse

          I preached for the third scrutiny today and the readings centering around the Gospel reading of the Raising of Lazarus.  Enjoy!

Zombie movie filmed in Kokomo, Logansport ready for screening
Image from the scene of "Hungry Eyes" shot in Logansport 

Homily: 5th Sunday of Lent – Cycle C (Scrutinies)
          A couple of years ago, I was home visiting my folks and we were in the car going out to dinner when I noticed on the back windows of a couple of cars stickers that referenced a coming “Zombie Apocalypse”.  The one I remember clearly said: “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Vehicle”.  I turned to ask my sister if this was something I was imagining or if people really were worried about a zombie apocalypse and she told me that was kind of a “thing” that people were into.  Since then I’ve noticed that there seems to be a fascination with zombies: the TV series, “The Walking Dead”, the 2011 film “Zombie Apocalypse”, and the 2013 film “World War Z” all testify to this.
          In fact, poor Fr. Clayton received an awkward first impression of Logansport when, on the first day of his assignment here, as I was taking him out to dinner, we passed by a group of people who were all made-up like zombies for the filming of that scene of the film “Hungry Eyes” that was filmed here in Logansport.  I recall distinctly that he responded with what has now become his quite commonplace response: “Where am I?”
          So, why have we become so fascinated with zombies?  Well, that I can’t really answer.  As a subject for entertainment, however—that is, for those who are entertained by these type of gory thrillers—I can propose a few thoughts.  First, of course, is that they are “thrillers”—that is, they get our blood pumping—and in this way, they are kind of like roller coasters; which, if they don’t make us sick, are a lot of fun.  Second is that there is something about this idea of dead bodies coming back to life: only this time without any rational soul and with an insatiable desire to consume human flesh.  I mean, it’s our worst nightmare, right?  Every other threat to our lives we can stop by killing it, ultimately.  But what about those who are already dead?  How do you kill what’s already dead?  And how do you stop something that doesn’t seem to need food to survive, but nonetheless has an insatiable need to eat?  Yes, it’s our worst nightmare, but it is just far enough removed from any reality that we know that we’re not traumatized by seeing it portrayed on a screen.
          If we take a step back and reflect for a moment, however, we may realize that this nightmare is something that we are more ready to embrace and to face.  You see, in an era in which more and more people are turning away from the idea that there can be new life after death, anything that “re-animates” after having died will assuredly be monstrous: the idea of resurrection (that is, that life is renewed or reborn, not just resuscitated) is thought of as absurd.
          You see, death is a reality that we all must face.  For those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition, death is a result of sin and the decay associated with death is the evidence that, separated from God, no life can be sustained.  We believe that God has the power to restore us to life, however, and so when Ezekiel says “Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them;” we don’t think of the zombie apocalypse (though, perhaps, now you will), rather we think about being resurrected to new life.  In a very real way, this is exactly what Jesus proved when he raised Lazarus from the dead and, more poignantly, when he himself rose from the dead.
          For those who have abandoned this tradition, however, death is simply the final part of life and the decay associated with death is simply the natural breakdown of the material body once the animating power no longer exists.  In this there is no power to restore life: only nightmarish concepts of bodies rising from graves by some unknowable power only to suck the lives out of those who are still living.  And so we see that, in a world in which God is denied (or simply ignored)—that is, a world without the resurrection of Christ—any concept of life after death can’t be anything more than the zombie apocalypse.  By acknowledging Christ’s resurrection, however, we come to realize that life after death isn’t something monstrous; rather it is something new and glorious and to be sought after.
          Eight of our brothers and sisters have acknowledged Christ’s resurrection and so have come to realize that God offers us something beautiful after this life is through.  Their desire is to be united to that offer (like the rest of us have been) through Baptism at the Easter Vigil.  To help them prepare, we have spent the last weeks scrutinizing them: calling them to turn away from sin and towards new life in Christ and today is our final scrutiny, in which we will remind them that only Jesus can save us from the death that sin has imposed upon us and ask God once again to free them from any and every attachment to sin to which they might still be clinging.
          And, of course, this message is also for all of us: a reminder of the necessity to remain vigilant against any attachment to sin that may creep into our lives.  One of the best ways that we do this, of course, is to make frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation.  By making good and sincere confessions regularly throughout the year, we keep tabs on which sins in our lives have become habitual—and, thus, have become an attachment to our lives—so that we can take steps to remove these sinful habits and replace them with virtuous ones.
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, has proven to us that, while death will still touch all of us, life after death will not be a nightmarish zombie apocalypse: at least not for those who have been united to him in a death like his through Baptism.  Rather, it will be new and glorious if only we remain faithful to him throughout our short time here in this world.  Let us pray, then, for our brothers and sisters, the elect—and let us pray also for ourselves—that, strengthened by our celebration of this Holy Eucharist, we may come to the realization of that glorious new life that awaits us: the eternal Easter of heaven.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – March 13th, 2016

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