Living, Not (Un)dead

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Easter Sunday! A day for colored eggs, chocolate bunnies . . . and zombies? On the Internet, at least. Sometime last decade, someone connected Jesus’ resurrection with the image of a zombie—the dead who still walk the earth, seen in countless horror movies hungering for the brains of the living—and came up with “Zombie Jesus Day.” Whether “Zombie Jesus Day” is mean-spirited mockery or harmless humor, the occasion won’t rival Easter any time soon.

Zombies: Lumbering Into the Mainstream

Zombies have marched (or shuffled) triumphantly through popular culture in recent years. Writer-director George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) firmly established zombies as soulless, moaning, meandering monsters. More recently, such films as 28 Days Later (2002) and the Resident Evil franchise, as well as the comedies Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009), have brought zombies lumbering into the mainstream. Best-selling zombie novels range from the harrowing (Max Brooks’ World War Z, 2006) to the hilarious (Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 2009). AMC’s The Walking Dead, based on the popular comic book of the same name, finished its first season last fall with high ratings and critical acclaim. Both the comic book and the show follow a small group of survivors through an American South overrun with zombies—a vivid example of the “zombie apocalypse” motif, in which society crumbles into chaos under the relentless onslaught of the brain-craving undead.

Why does pop culture return, again and again, to zombies? Perhaps because zombies make compelling metaphors for our fears: from loss of identity and self-determination to what Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman calls “the unrelenting, unstoppable possibility of death that looms over all of our lives at all times.”

The Risen Christ: Not a Zombie

While time taken to explain that the risen Jesus was not, in fact, a zombie may seem to some like time wasted, juxtaposing zombie stories with the Easter story clarifies what Christians believe, and don’t believe, about the nature and meaning of the Resurrection. We don’t believe that Jesus came back to life on his own, like a zombie stumbling up from the grave. As remarkable as such an event may sound, we believe in a far greater reality—that Jesus, who truly died, was truly raised to a new kind of life. As the apostle Paul teaches, “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9). Amazing! The mortality that has held a grip on humanity since Adam and Eve, the death that has enslaved us in fear for so long (see Hebrews 2:15), has been “swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Jesus lives! The New Testament shows that Jesus’ resurrection life is not entirely unlike his earthly one: His followers still recognize him (although not always at first), and he is still a flesh-and-blood individual (albeit with the ability to appear and disappear at will, locked doors or not). Despite these similarities, the risen Jesus, unlike the earthly Jesus, is forever freed from death’s power (see Acts 2:24).

Zombie stories often end unhappily. One zombie scholar calls the zombies in the stories a “kind of perverse manifestation of humans’ desire for immortality gone horribly awry.” In the Easter story, however, we find assurance that our desire for immortality will be granted by God, as we are joined to Jesus in his death and resurrection (see Romans 6:1-11). Those who belong to Christ will live together with him now and in the world to come. This is the “living hope” into which we’ve been born through Jesus’ resurrection (see 1 Peter 1:3), and it energizes us to live for him all of our days.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

Image Credit: dtcchc | Flickr

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