August 19, 2012
Gospel: John 6:51-58
1st Reading: Proverbs 9:1-6
2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20
Eating flesh and drinking blood. It sounds like a zombie or vampire story right? These have been all the rage the past few years. A couple of years ago I stayed with a pastor friend of mine in Eugene for part of my vacation. We went into a bookstore looking for a particular book in the “Son of a Witch” series. Finally, after not finding it where she expected to, she asked the clerk where it could be found. The clerk replied, “That’s in ‘Teen Paranormal Romance.’” I had to stifle my snicker! Number one, an adult was reading these books. Number two there was a whole section for this type of book. Number three, I am superior since I’ve never even picked up one of these “Twilight” books or seen any of the movies.
Of course on further reflection I admit that I am not superior or immune. When I was growing up the vampire movie was “The Lost Boys.” I went to the theater to see “I am Legend” when it came out, a zombie/vampire story. Just this year Nick and I started watching the “Walking Dead” series that we stream from the internet. I also watched a season and a half of “True Blood” until I just couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to watch it anymore. I can say that my tastes are less geared toward teenagers, and less about romance, but my friend who was looking for her teen paranormal romance book is probably more in touch with today’s cultural references, and can have a more informed conversation with a teenager than I can.
These vampire and zombie movies, books, and TV shows may or may not be what you’re watching or reading, but they are what your children or grandchildren are watching and reading. Some religious leaders have condemned these books as well as Harry Potter, because of its connection to black magic and witchcraft, but they do have strong spiritual themes. This can be a convenient way to talk to your child or grandchild about spirituality and even Christianity or even think about it more deeply for yourself.
The eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood might not be the first theme you want to go to, but it is front and center. It is pretty gross to think about. But the truth is, Jesus asked us to do it and it is the central ritual, the Sacrament that we gather around every Sunday. It is at the table that we meet and eat Jesus.
Vampires and Christians share something in common and that is the view that blood is life, it is empowerment. Vampires and Christians find eternal life by drinking blood. When vampires do it, they damage the person from whom they drink. In the Lord’s Supper, when we drink the blood, we share in the eternal life of Jesus, but we go from damaged to whole. We take on Jesus’ kind of life that is eternal, but we also take on Jesus’ manner of life that is self-giving and loving and welcoming. Some questions to consider when thinking about the Lord’s Supper and literature and movies about vampires is this: What does it mean to live eternally? What does it mean to truly live? What gives life? What takes it away?
In these vampire stories there is usually the theme of “us verses them.” There is the fear of the unknown. There is the “other.” Often these films take on a Romeo and Juliet flavor in which two young people fall in love, when that is forbidden because they are from different groups, one a human and one a vampire. Through their love, they teach others to lose their fear and instead embrace differences and break down barriers separating the two groups. Another sub-theme is about judging a book by its cover.
Now maybe I should have preached separate sermons on zombies and vampires, because they are very different creatures, but I don’t know if you would sit through two of these sermons or if I could stomach preaching about this twice, so here we go.
Zombies eat flesh. Once they do, the one they’ve eaten also becomes a zombie. They are dead and yet they move and hurt people and spread this zombie disease. I think zombie stories are so interesting because they challenge the life we live now. Sometimes I know I feel like a zombie, going through the motions, in my routines, walking through life in a daze unaware of my surroundings, drawn in by advertising and the messages culture gives me about what to spend my money on and what is important in life.
Jesus is the anti-zombie in this case. When we eat of his flesh, instead of becoming less alive, we become more aware and more alive. Instead of then going and feasting on other people, we invite them to feast with Jesus and truly live. Through this meal we become more aware of how we treat other people. We are invited to share our food. We are invited to see every meal as a gift from God. We are invited to sacrifice our own wants and desires to make sure that others have life abundant.
Finally, both vampire and zombie stories are about the world falling apart all around us and how we behave when we are faced with tough choices. Faced as we are with the loss of environment and habitat, pollution and a warming planet with extremes of weather, it does seem that we are living in times of desperation and fear. Other moments in history have had their own notions of a world torn apart, whether it was The Black Plague, times of war, the fear of “the bomb” or whatever. And we know that there are places in this world that have fallen apart and would look very much like the set of a zombie movie. It isn’t that far-fetched to see ourselves in a world where we are desperately trying to survive. We do have to make tough choices every day. And sometimes those choices are made for us as we age or get sick or financial markets take their toll or whatever.
These stories make us think about the question of who we are. When it is easy to be generous and loving, sure I will be those things. Would I still be the same when times are tough? Jesus showed us God, loving even as we were crucifying him. This truly showed that God does not resort to violence, no matter the situation. It shows God welcoming the criminals on either side of him as he hung there on the cross, even as he suffered and died. Who are we really? Are we really loving and faithful even when it isn’t easy to be? We don’t know until we come to that point and our faith is tested. But you don’t have to wait until the world is a desolate wasteland and you’re being pursued by a pack of zombies to know. We go through hardships that help us practice loving kindness. We know we’d give a jump to a woman with a baby stuck in the grocery store parking lot. But what if it was a guy with a lot of tattoos? What if it was our enemy? What if it was hailing? What if there were zombies coming after us? It isn’t often life or death. That just makes for good TV and sells a lot of books. But it is a matter of how we live our faith in a response of thanksgiving to God who does give us life and life abundant through the flesh and blood of his son Jesus. It is God who makes us flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood and invites us to help join others to the body of Christ through acts of love and grace.