Zombies, Vampires and Jesus
In April, 2009, a novel entitled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
was number three on the New York Times bestseller list.
It made a big splash because it was an innovative mash up of Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice
and modern zombie fiction, a genre that has a surprising number of readers.
The story follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but places the novel in an alternative version
of Regency era England where zombies roam the English countryside.
Described as the "unmentionables", zombies burst into gentile gatherings,
disturbing the polite society, wreaking mayhem, and eating human brains.
The Bennett sisters, the heroines of the book, fight them off even as
they hope to be married off to the best suitor.
Pride, Prejudice and Zombies rose to critical acclaim in our era, but the same can hardly be said for Jesus.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus does a little zombie speak,
as he talks to a dwindling crowd about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
In contrast to his earlier use of the word ‘body’, which has more spiritual meanings,
Jesus now uses the Greek word for flesh, which is essentially meat.
People in the crowd were understandably asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat??”
By the end of this chapter, a bunch of disciples abandon Jesus, saying his teaching is too hard.
And who could blame them?
Their spiritual teacher and miracle bread maker was beginning to sound like a cannibal and crazy man.
A lot of times we blip over these verses in the Gospel of John as if we know what they mean.
We use these words about eating Jesus’ body and blood at communion every week.
We think of it as receiving Jesus spiritually, or for those who went through Lutheran confirmation class,
receiving the ‘real presence’ of Jesus, who is ‘in, with and under’ the elements of bread and wine.
We hear Jesus talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and we just think: communion.
But Jesus’ meaning was not self evident to his first hearers, and if we think about it,
probably isn’t to us either.
It reminds me of a friend’s daughter, who has not been not raised as a Christian,
who went to a church service for the first time last year at the age of 14.
She reported incredulously, “They actually pretended
they were eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood!”
I was secretly a little offended by this assessment—I don’t feel like I am pretending.
But I am pretty sure I am not eating human flesh and drinking blood, either.
So what ARE we doing at communion, if not pretending?
And what IS Jesus talking about here, if not cannibalism?
It’s pretty clear that Jesus wasn’t speaking on a literal level.
He was trying to describe a mystery-- the mystical union on himself and God.
But this really wasn’t what the crowd wanted to hear either;
previously they had picked up stones to throw at Jesus when he claimed to be one with God,
whom he called ‘Father.’
To the Jews, claiming you were God was blasphemy.
To us, it would be a mark of insanity.
So what is Jesus getting at here??
It isn’t a meglomaniac version of thinking you are God.
It isn’t simply a symbolic eating with Jesus.
No, in my reading, Jesus is using words to try to communicate a two fold mystery here:
his union with God, and the believer’s union with him.
Union is a human longing to be part of something greater than oneself.
It is hard to describe in words, but it can be experienced
in the heightened awareness of the arts
in sharing one breath in a yoga class or singing in a choir
in the joining of two people in sexual love.
In all these cases, people experience a merging into a greater reality,
a kind of consuming passion,
losing oneself for an instant and becoming at one with something that was whole and complete.
For me, this sense of spiritual union was most pronounced in young motherhood.
I remember standing at the altar praying this prayer when I was pregnant:
“Almighty God, you provide the true bread from heaven, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grant that we who have received the sacrament of his body and blood
may abide in him and he in us, that we may be filled with the power of his endless life, now and forever”
Suddenly I realized that I had a life abiding within me.
That life was feeding on me.
Without me, that life could not survive.
I knew already that I was deeply attached to this new life, and no matter what, it would always be part of me.
Jesus uses the image of eating to describe the way in which he and God are in union.
God is the giver of bread, manna in the wilderness.
Jesus is that bread; the gift and giver are one.
Then Jesus uses the same image to show how believers are one with him—
when they ‘eat’ the bread from heaven, Jesus, they take Jesus into themselves.
Jesus becomes part of them and they become part of Jesus.
Like the saying, You are what you eat,” those who believe in Jesus feed on his teaching,
his signs and miracles, and most of all, his presence in their lives.
Spending time with Jesus is the most nourishing thing a Christian can do.
I have had first hand experience with this truth.
Some years ago, I had what you could call a mid life crisis.
I was feeling dissatisfied, like I wanted more than my family or close friends could give.
It was easy to be disappointed, or even angry that my longings were not met.
I could blame them or myself, but the point was, I wasn’t happy, and something had to change.
Then something caught the glimmer of my attention:
Perhaps what I was looking for wasn’t to be found in human relationships.
Perhaps what I was longing for wasn’t actually intimacy with a person, but God.
And that’s when my spiritual pursuits began in earnest.
It wasn’t that I didn’t pray before or have a relationship with God;
it’s just that there were certain things I didn’t expect to come from God.
I expected companionship from my friends
affirmation from my spouse
affection from my children.
All these sources of love are variable, because they come from people.
Why was I expecting a constant supply?
Then I thought to myself: why not make an experiment of asking for these things from God,
who has endless supply?
The experiment has worked.
Now, some four years later, I find myself in a much more joyous and fulfilled place.
Why? because every day I meet Jesus in quiet time for a few minutes or for an hour.
I have different tools I like to use: journalling, the psalms, The Message, Jesus Calling
But the net effect is that I have found what truly nourishes
what is true food for me, more important than the food on the plate or even the people in my life.
Jesus said, Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
It isn’t zombie nation, or a creepy monologue.
It’s an invitation to relationship with Jesus.
In that relationship, you find a feast, food that sustains.
You find wholeness.
You find union.
You find that you have all you’ll ever need. Amen.
See what I have here? (pull out silver tray)
What do you suppose I use this for?
I use it for special meals—put Christmas cookies on it, chocolate covered strawberries, sandwiches for tea party.
The food that goes on this tray is pretty fancy, takes a lot of preparation.
But after I am done, I can invite people to share in the feast!
Today in OT lesson, Lady Wisdom invites everyone to the feast.
Lady Wisdom is one of the many names scripture has for God.
Lady Wisdom invites everyone to the feast, but it isn’t a food feast—
it’s a feast for understanding! For insight! For seeing God at work in the world.
The great thing about it is that you don’t have to be smart to be invited.
God as Lady Wisdom goes right out into the streets to send people in
She calls out from the highest places so everyone can hear.
And it is a great feast! The delights of Lady Wisdom are like the best cookies and tea cakes.
God continues to invite us to this feast.
And God wants us to invite others.
God’s feast is for everyone.
How can we invite people to the feast?
You can invite someone to church; tell someone about the food pantry or GHDOS.
You can invite someone to sit with you at lunch when school begins.
You have a special gift as kids:
You can Invite adults to play with you—help them slow down and appreciate God’s good gifts.
God invites everyone to the feast the Lady Wisdom has prepared.
It’s a great party! Thanks for sharing the invitation!