I have never watched the Walking Dead. I am completely without knowledge of this apparently seminal moment in American Culture and I have exactly zero interest in correcting this horrible and probably fatal condition. Of course, since I’ve never seen the show, I do not know if I will rise again to preach in some kind of zombie church later on, should my lack of Walking Dead cool points prove a mortal condition.
Because there are always rules. There are always to zombies. First you separate them into fast zombies and slow zombies, letting you know if you need cardio to survive the apocalypse or just a decent head start (come on, slow zombies!). Then they tell you it was an asteroid, or it was a monkey pox gone wild from the heart of Africa, it sells the brain it makes you actually dead, and then alive again, there are a lot of rules it would seem to the Zombie universe.
In 2009 they went so far as to write a book entitled Pride and Prejudice . . . and Zombies, and this spring they made a movie of the same name. I read the book; I do not care to see the movie. But those were fast zombies, it was the black plague that caused them to rise – there are rules.
Jesse Eisenberg in the movie Zombieland, also a fast-zombie movie, lived by his rules and since the zombies were fast ones, rule #1 was, Cardio.
But I was listening to a game show on Public radio the other day called “Ask me another”, and they were mashing up film and television titles into a single title and one of the clues went something like this, John Belushi and his drunken frat brothers try and navigate the corridors of power with ruthless classmate Frank Underwood and the answer was “Animal House of Cards.” So the one that caught my ear, so to speak was this one, “Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn try and survive the Zombie Apocalypse” and the answer was either “Dead man walking dead”, or, my personal favorite, “the walking Dead man walking” and I got to thinking that Dead and living are antonyms; when was the last time you heard that word? Probably sixth grade; but that they were entirely different in how they are used.
I suppose true antonyms are Dead and Alive, although the definition of “living” is “alive” so it is just odd that while you can say, The Walking Dead, and that title totally makes sense, you cannot say The Walking Living, or even The Walking Alive in the same sense and have it be meaningful.
Sorry, that’s enough English Nerd talk for the day, but it is interesting to me that we have developed a culture where walking dead makes sense in a sentence and walking alive does not.
The dead are their own category, it would seem, while the alive are, well, just everybody, we don’t think of them as a discreet group so we don’t talk about them as a group.
We don’t talk about ourselves as being alive because everybody in the real, non-cinematic world is alive, it’s not special, and we do not remark on it much.
But then again life and death are a little distant now. Death is something that as often as not happens away somewhere, in hospitals or in hospice facilities or in long-term care. I applaud the trend lately of people coming home and receiving care in comforting, familiar surroundings as they take the last few steps toward the promise of their baptism, and not just for the sake of the dying, but for the sake of us all.
I think that what with our “progress” in making death something that professionals do and we just write the final check at the end, we have robbed ourselves of a thousand little moments. Moments of vulnerability, moments of tremendous faith, moments of doubt and fear, moments of stark humanity, laid bare and very, very personal.
We still have the dead, the group of people we acknowledge are not alive, but they are made distant from us by technology if we let it, they are washed, and tended, and prepared by someone else for their final journey.
Tabitha this morning is dead, but this is dead in the old way, she was watched over and bathed and her brow was probably wiped and her lips kept moist the way the people around her knew to do, returning years of care and love she herself had shown them. There was no mystery, no shame, nothing weird at all about Tabitha being dead. That is what happened and the community knew what to do.
They wept, they brought forth the blessings of the dead woman and they wept some more, they showed the gifts they had received at her hand and told the stories of all the good things the dead woman had done and they wept.
When Peter comes up, they are not asking him to save her. They are calling the holy man to be with them in their time of mourning and I think that the fact that Tabitha arises is a surprise to them all. She was in that category: the dead. That was the understanding.
Now she loses her category. She can be one of the crowd again, beloved, but not separate in any way.
She is alive.
And we think of ourselves that way and so she loses her category, she washes in with the rest of us. We’re alive.
But are we alive in the same way as Tabitha?
The story of raising from the dead is a common one, it is a clear and obvious sign of the power of God made manifest on earth and so Jesus does, it, Peter does it, God does it in the Bible from time to time, it is really God all along but God has a pretty good set of tools on earth to do the Holy work.
But it is pretty much never about the life of the body. Sure Lazarus rises and Tabitha rises and the child of the temple official is snatched before he can reach the threshold of death but it is not the life of their bodies that is the focus of all of these tales.
Because what does it take to raise the dead? Is it a virus, like in 28 days later? A meteor like in Shawn of the Dead; magic? Voodoo?
Really, it is just the power of God. Raising a body is as easy as creating the universe, if you can do the second one, you can certainly do the first.
That’s not even an adequate demonstration of God’s power, hardly even worth the effort except that people notice; they write passages about it in the Bible, in fact.
But again, this is not about the life of the body.
Because the walking dead, those alive in their bodies but dead to the salvation Christ offers them, well they are all around us.
They are everywhere, even sometimes inside churches, they go through the motions of life but they never really get to the point where the word of God, the law and the gospel bring them to their knees like Paul on the road to Damascus and then raise them up again like, well like Tabitha this morning.
Until the Law of God, and God’s righteousness drives you down it cannot, it – can – not lift you back up. Tabitha this morning is as close as you get to a saint, I should imagine. She has done good and charitable things her whole life and is beloved by her community and that does not spare her from death. Even those who walk in the path of the light will still fall and will still need to be redeemed. No one, not even the beloved Tabitha, will be spared for all have fallen short etc. etc.
Until then you are just biding your time, waiting for the judgement of God to fall upon you, unsure of your place in the world and in God’s love, unsure if yours is the lot of Job, to suffer and to lose or if yours is the lot of Elijah, to rise without tasting death, to be the harbinger of the salvation to come.
Until you are made alive, you are dead in all of these questions, all of these riddles and worries and fears. Am I good enough; am I worthy of love, what am I here for?
Our story is not one of endless blessedness, no trials and no tribulations. We all taste failure and we all sip from the cup of joy and we all know love in some form and we all strive to find the answers.
What marks the dead is that there is no assurance, there is no miracle cure for the zombie apocalypse, there is no answer that is not certain today, called into question tomorrow, and cast into the dust the day after because outside of God nothing has life, outside of God nothing has permanence, outside of God there are only the walking dead.
But within the body of Christ, within the hard-to-define group of “the living,” we can still fumble around for the right answer, sure. We can still wonder at the answers sometimes. We can still mess things up completely and still, at the center of us, down deep where Christ abides, there is peace.
Amidst the storm of life Tabitha strode forward, doing what God would have her do, knowing that she would never see the day when she fed the last hungry person, never see the morning break upon a world with no one shivering in the cold, never fulfill the law in all of its breadth and scope.
She was alive already.
Before Peter came to the side of her death bed she knew what she knew, that Jesus was her savior and that salvation was hers and that she was unworthy to untie the thong of the Lord’s sandals and yet she lived without fear, with bold faith and when death claimed her it was as likely as not with some relief that she claimed her rest, the peace Jesus had promised her.
Imagine her shock when Peter raised her body again.
The rules, like is any good tale of the walking dead and the walking living, are simple.
Live in the knowledge that it is the grace of God that saves you, the cross of Christ which delivers you and you walk alive. You can be unafraid in times of trouble, you can give until it hurts and then realize it actually doesn’t hurt that bad, in fact, giving of yourself, of the life Jesus saved for you is among the best feelings there is. Ask Tabitha.
Life in the humility of the created and not the creator and you will see death coming to carry you home, not carry you away and you can slip into the embrace of the Lord with ease.
Live without that knowledge and death stalks you at every turn. Every decision is suddenly fraught with peril, with risk that has to be weighed and measured and carefully examined instead of just blown past like the living do because Jesus is waiting on the other side of every decision to bring us peace.
I have seen the walking dead, just not the television show. I have also seen the walking living, as awkward a phrase as that truly is.
How do we embrace the life that is offered to us and walk in the light of God’s love? Feel the words of the confession. Taste the grace in bread and wine. Sing the Kyrie and feel yourself asking for the mercy of God and mean it. Know that you can be as great as you dream of being when Christ abides and give you the power to walk from this place fully alive.
Build on the foundation of the cross and walk, alive; bringing the life with you, taking it to the walking dead and waking them, inviting them to rise, like Peter does.
You will marvel when it happens, you will tremble, not with fear, but with the joy of God and you will know what it means to walk in the life Christ brings, you will know.