ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH APRIL 15, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
GHOSTS AND ZOMBIES VS. JESUS
1 John 3: 1 – 7; Luke 24: 36 – 48
Ghosts and Zombies are rather popular these days. There are TV shows where people go into houses hunting for ghosts and many movies on the coming Zombie apocalypse. What are ghosts and zombies? Where did these notions come from? Generally, ghosts are disturbing and disruptive, while zombies want to eat your brains. Both ghosts and zombies are dead people who somehow and for some reason, are roaming the earth. But there is a significant difference between the two; ghosts are the spirits of deceased people who are still wandering the earth and zombies are dead people who have come back to earth in a bodily state. Ghosts are spirits without bodies; Zombies are bodies without spirits. The belief in ghosts goes back into ancient history and was prevalent in many cultures. Generally, it’s thought that ghosts are the unhappy, troubled spirits of the dead, who have left their mortal body, and live in the human realm where at times, they appear to people. Sometimes ghosts are people who have an unresolved issue or who have done something for which they still need to make amends. Since they don’t have bodies, ghosts aren’t bound by natural laws like gravity or barriers like walls or time and place. Zombies have their roots in the slave culture of Haiti. Zombies were people who had displeased God and so were outside the realm of heaven. Sometimes the priests would drug people or hold up those who were catatonic as proof the reality of zombies. Since zombies were bodies without souls they lacked a will of their own. When they were brought back from the dead the person who had conjured them was their new master. In this way, they reflected the empty, desolate feelings of some slaves who also felt that while their bodies moved and lived, their souls had been ripped from them. They lacked the ability to make decisions or choose and fulfill their own destiny; dreams they once had were either dead or denied; they couldn’t direct their own lives let alone someone else; they weren’t free to go where they wanted. The concept of zombies was valuable. People who were enslaved clung to the hope of freedom in the afterlife. Sometimes despair of the present and longing for the eternal future pushed these people to suicide. The fear of displeasing God and so ending up as an eternal slave without a will or soul, caused them to endure their daily hardships. Thus ends the lesson on ghosts and zombies.
In Jesus’ day, when Jesus walked on the stormy water towards the disciples’ boat, the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost (Matthew 14: 26); that is, until Jesus got closer and he physically pulled Peter out of the tumultuous waters. Later when Jesus was resurrected and appeared to the disciples, their initial reaction was fear – once again they thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24: 37). For centuries people have tried to claim and so reduce the resurrected Jesus to the status of a ghost. More recently, people have picked up on the idea that when Jesus resurrected, he was so advanced as a human being, he turned into pure energy or light, i.e. a ghost-like state. This is a reworking of an ancient heresy called Gnosticism. And with all the zombie hype these days, some people are claiming the resurrected Jesus is a zombie – one of the “undead” as zombies are also called – not quite dead and not really or fully alive. Scripture makes it clear the risen Jesus is neither a ghost nor a zombie. The eye witnesses who encountered Jesus after his resurrection give strong evidence to the contrary. They tell us the risen Jesus walked with people, taught them and directed them to do certain things. He had freedom and he had a will. He had plans for the future. At Emmaus he used his very real hands to break bread. In the passage we read today, the risen Jesus comforted the disciples by inviting them to touch him and see for himself that he had “flesh and bones” (vs. 39). Since the rumours at that time were that someone had stolen Jesus dead body to make it look like he resurrected, anyone could pretend to be the resurrected Christ. To prove he wasn’t an imposter, Jesus showed the disciples the scars from his wounds on the cross. John records that he invited Thomas to touch the still tender wounds of his once crucified body. In Luke, the risen Jesus was hungry and asked for something to eat. When he received a piece of fish, he ate it. Paul refers to the appearances of the risen Jesus that were common knowledge in the early Church. He writes, “Jesus, the Messiah died for our sins; he was buried; he was raised from death on the third day, exactly as Scripture says; he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him;” And referring to Jesus’ appearance on the Damascus Road to Paul, who was at that time a persecutor of Christians, Paul says, “ he finally presented himself alive to me” (1 Corinthians 15: 5 – 8). In John’s gospel, we’re told Jesus breathed on his disciples to give them his Spirit. If we take the Bible seriously at all, we must conclude that Jesus isn’t a ghost without a body or a zombie without a spirit. He has a physical body and did tangible things; he has a self-directing spirit capable of dreaming, willing and leading others. Jesus is alive and whole. And he lives, not to torment or torture us, but to give us new life and wholeness.
Now ghosts and zombies don’t actually affect us, however what they symbolize does. If the risen, living Christ offers us the fullness of life, completeness, peace and harmony – what the Jewish people call “Shalom”, what does believing Jesus is a ghost or a zombie offer? What do those concepts represent? Since neither is entity is a unified, living person, wholeness or shalom can be ruled out right from the beginning.
Ghosts represent unfinished business and an unsettled spirit; the things that haunt us. What unfinished things haunt you? In Leonard Cohen’s Song of Bernadette, he captures the unrelenting sorrow of many human hearts, “So many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo”. How many of you are broken by what you’ve done and can’t undo? How many are haunted by past decisions and mistakes? Do you lie awake at night replaying your deepest regrets? Wishing you could go back, redo it and make it right? Do you think of people you’ve hurt or let down? Things you’ve said and can’t un-say? A minister recalls speaking to college students when a girl challenged him “How can a loving God send people to hell?” As he tried to answer, she rebutted everything he said. Before he knew it, they were arguing. After the session he apologized to her. He asked if he could share something. She said yes so he explained the gospel to her. When he said we’re all sinners forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus, she began to cry. She admitted she’d been having an affair with a married man. She was invested in denying God’s judgement because she was haunted with guilt. She was an unhappy, troubled spirit, stuck in her sin, fear and anxiety. Her guilt wouldn’t leave. She needed forgiveness. To believe Jesus is a ghost, leaves you lost, guilt ridden, wounded. How can a ghost who can’t escape their own earthly regrets help you to move on and find new life? To believe in the risen Christ is to find grace, as Cohen writes of Bernadette, “No one believed what she had seen; No one believed what she heard; That there are sorrows to be healed and mercy, mercy in this world”.
If ghosts are symbols of our haunted psyches, zombies are symbols of our enslavement, of lives that are limited and despairing. Of people who are so reliant on something or someone else we no longer have the strength to break free of that bondage. Of people who are trapped. Often when we think of bondage, we think of addictions. Addictions are certainly a form of oppression. When addictions take over our lives, we can lose our soul and sense of self. We no longer have a will of our own. We start to destroy the good things around us and we no longer care. The substance or compulsion controls us. We cry out with Paul, “the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time” (Romans 7: 18 – 20). Substances are one form of addiction, behaviours are another – just ask a compulsive gambler. However, any behaviour we refuse to control, controls us and they are equally destructive to our souls. I had a woman in her 50s come to see me because a so-called friend was saying nasty things about her on Facebook and leaving abusive messages on her phone. She didn’t know what to do. I suggested she could unfriend her and change her phone number. The woman responded, “I can’t do that, I need to know what she’s saying about me.” People are addicted to drama, to emotional pain, to turmoil, to self-doubt, to self-indulgence, to self-centredness – all of which rob us of our souls and keep us enslaved. To believe Jesus is a zombie, leaves you entombed, hemmed in and overwhelmed. But. as Dwight L Moody so succinctly put it, “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you are free”.
Jesus is as alive now as when he walked the earth. Jesus, body and soul, God and man, rose from the dead a whole person. He rose as himself, only healed and fully alive. And what did he do? He went to visit his friends and have something to eat. Jesus didn’t vanish into a mystical, spiritual, or ghostly state. He didn’t become a cosmic light or vibration. He didn’t lose the core of his being and personality to roam around in a zombified state. He has a body. He has breath. He has wounds that are healed. He has purpose. He has breakfast. Those who believe in him share this future as well. We shall have life. We shall have Shalom: hope, forgiveness, freedom, and peace. We’ll go on, to new life and never be dead again. This is the promise of the God who loves you, as Paul assures us, “if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself. When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” (Romans 8: 10 & 11)