Though it is waning somewhat, it seems to me, there is still an unhealthy fascination with zombies these days. Now there is a sentence I didn’t think I would ever write as an introduction to sermon preparation and preaching notes. And yet it fits in an odd sort of way. But first, my complaint – zombies. What’s the big deal with zombies? Why are we so intrigued by zombies? Scary movies – like the “...of the Dead” series of which there are far too many; funny movies – like “Shaun of the Dead” a few of years ago; comic books, popular fiction – everywhere you look there are zombies. Aaahhh!
Some argue that horror movies tap into some deep national or global fear and reinterpret it to fit the genre. The monster movies of the ‘50s were a response to the nuclear threat, fears of science out of control. The robot movies of the ‘70s were a manifestation of the fears of being replaced by automation. The apocalyptic movies of the last few decades reflect a fear of the devastations of war, or the effects of global warming, or pollution, or who knows what. Movies like Get Out or Us tap into our racial history and the fears of division within our society, even today. But they also force us to look into our fear that we are part of the problem and not the solution we thought we were; the kind of thing the comic strip Pogo was alluding to with the famous “We have met the enemy and he is us” quote.
So, what about zombies? What do they reveal about our hidden fears? Some argue it is AIDs or cancer or any of a number of medical threats that prey upon our minds and hearts these days. How many memes have you seen talking about the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of a zombie apocalypse? Others argue that it represents a soulless leadership that seems to be marching us all to inevitable doom. Maybe. I wonder, on the other hand, if it isn’t a physical or a political threat, but a spiritual one instead. I wonder if we have neglected the Apostle’s Creed so long that we’ve lost touch with the meaning of “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body.”
Maybe it is a stretch, but Paul had to contend with those scared of zombies in his day. Sort of. The problem was that there were some who were repulsed by the concept of the Resurrection of the body. “Who would want,” they would argue, “to reanimate dead flesh?” Who would want to re-inhabit this shell that we had cast off on our death? And that doesn’t even include the problems of what kind of death you would be coming back from.” What if the body wasn’t in fit shape? What if there were pieces missing? Yuck,” they argued in Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic (and I confess I don’t know the Greek or Hebrew OR Aramaic for “yuck.”) So, Paul sighed deeply and wrote the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians to deal with them.
Paul, who is admittedly wrestling with stuff he doesn’t really understand, makes a number of different points in this argument. First of all, he argues that Resurrection is God’s act, not a natural occurrence. This means that we can’t simply look at the world and see what happens. We have to see with the eyes of faith.
There are, however, some symbols in this life that give us a clue, Paul claims. The metaphor of the seed gives us some insight into what is going on in Resurrection. The seed is planted; it “dies” and what grows is something different. The seed doesn’t wake up or reanimate. It is transformed by the process of creation. The body is changed, he argues, and what appears is different from what died. In other words, Paul claims, there is a new creation. He wrote of that new creation in a different way in II Corinthians 5:16-20. That was about living as a new creation; this passage is about being made new for eternity. In fact, we have two statements in the Apostle’s Creed that we could consider here: “I believe in the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” They go hand in hand, of course, but they also share the truth that they straddle that line between the world we know and the world we are heading toward. They both speak to us of life that is bigger than death – or maybe better, life for which death is but a moment, a pause before continuation.
But even continuation isn’t quite right. Yes, it continues, but it is also about change, about transformation. Not just a transformation that occurs at death, however. This is a transformation that is at work in us from the moment we accept the gift of life that comes from the one who came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10 – the verse that, for me, encapsulates what Jesus was all about!).
The seeds of that final transformation are at work in us from the moment we claim the salvation that Christ offers. We claim the power of Christ’s resurrection today, even while we wait for our own Resurrection. The transformation is to be made like Christ. We can show glimpses of that life in our flesh, Paul argues, but we are still mortal – still subject to death. Until this final transformation, this new creation that God works in us.
He describes that transformation in a very interesting way. Verse 44 reads like this: “It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body” (I Cor. 15:44). One commentator claims that this is a weak translation of what Paul presents. The weakness comes in the physical versus spiritual split that we often struggle to comprehend. What would a spiritual body look like? A ghost? Not body so much as spirit that is recognizable?
What if we retranslate that first sentence to read: “What is sown embodies the soul; what is raised embodies the spirit.” Now, we usually use soul and spirit interchangeably. But in Greek “soul” is psuche and “spirit” is pneuma. “Soul” translates as “creatureliness,” that life force that makes us human, that makes us a part of creation, of earth, mortal. “Spirit” translates as the divine spark, the image of God in which we were created, the treasure that lives in this earthen vessel.
We are, in this life, embodied souls, subject to the needs of the flesh, fragile, earthy, focused on survival and self. Because of that, we are only dim reflections of the Christ who lives in us. We are imperfect examples of a life of the spirit. But resurrected, we will be embodied spirits, living not for ourselves, not subject to the needs of the flesh, but able to mirror the God who gives us life.
Paul seeks to make the point that Resurrection is real, not some ethereal, ghostly undead kind of life. As rich, as real, as wonderful as this life is, Resurrection is even more so. Even though words fail to grasp the realities beyond our experience, faith tells us that God has treasures in store for us.
But the real joy is that we don’t have to wait. We have this gift now, and because of it, though we may think we are dying, or already dead to life and living, because of self and doubt, we do not let go of the life within us. We have caught a glimpse of God, and that is enough to sustain us - body and soul and spirit. Until Resurrection.