The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
You may be wondering why in the world the title of this week’s reflection is somewhat reminiscent of George Romero’s classic horror/zombie film, Dawn of the Dead(1978). Yes, it is quite a stretch in one sense, but do read on because there’s method to my madness.
First of all, sometimes I think we need a little shock value when it comes to Easter. After all, it’s the festival to beat all festivals in the tradition of liturgical Christians. Depending on the size of one’s congregation, there will be trumpet voluntaries, lavish displays of lilies and other spring flowers, plenty of pomp, and perhaps even breakfast.
A lot of effort on the part of a whole lot of people will be put into making this day’s worship worthy of its meaning. We want it to be lovely and impressive; after all, there’s a lot of pressure since this may be the only chance we have to communicate with some people who otherwise won’t darken the church door.
During my childhood Easter was a time when I could count on a new dress, a basket filled with plenty of goodies, and a dinner that was rivaled only by those of Christmas and Thanksgiving. Visions of button-nosed bunnies, darling ducklings, and molded chocolate crosses danced through my impatient little noggin as I sat through the longer-than-usual worship service. Lovely little spring lambs and colorful dyed eggs destined to become Monday’s egg salad prevented me from seeing the real reason and importance of Easter. Oh, and how could I forget — it was also the first day of the year that it was permissible for one to wear white shoes.
Still wondering about that whole movie metaphor and whether I’ve lost my messianic marbles? Consider that Dawn of the Dead is thought by some film critics and scholars to be a kind of social commentary on American materialism and suburban sprawl. If you remember the film, most of the action takes place at that epicenter of consumerism – the shopping mall. Yep, even after death humans (and zombies) will gather at the mall. There are even shades of class warfare, but I’ll save that for another time. Can you guess where I’m headed with this one?
Here’s a hint in case you haven’t already figured it out. Where does one find a huge emphasis on Easter consumables? (Hint: Can you say Big Box?) The Easter Bunny makes an appearance for children’s photo ops at most local malls, and one can find enough plastic Easter goods in America to mold into a small island each year. Even the crosses one is likely to encounter will be candied or bedecked with silk flowers. What in this broken and beautiful world does all this have to do with Jesus and the most amazing story ever told?
Now, I’m not suggesting we turn the passion and resurrection story over to George Romero for one more “big screen” treatment, but I am saying that we need to take a close look at how we script this story, especially for those who haven’t experienced the radical love and grace of our amazing God. It requires a lot of prayer and thought on everyone’s part–whether your role will be in the pulpit, as a greeter, or even in the nursery. The Easter story is not for our entertainment; it’s for our very lives.
Take a close look at the readings. This is scary and fantastic stuff! Imagine you are one of the first women to arrive on the scene. You’ve been grieving a monumental loss, and now you are arriving at the grave to finish preparing your beloved dead teacher’s body. Dead – really dead – no hope of anything else is on the horizon. Instead of a decaying body you encounter the empty tomb and two supernatural beings in dazzling attire. Talk about terrifying!
This is no G-rated story – a lopped-off ear, brutal beating, violent death, and now a missing body. It really does qualify for a title like Dawn of the Resurrected Dead! The difference is that instead of a zillion zombies, we have the One who has conquered death for all time–for all of us.
What then are we to do? Do we fluff the story ala Disney, or do we treat it with all the horror, suspense, and grace inherent in the plot line? This is no idle tale; and it’s up to us to “script” it in a way that shows Jesus clearly to anyone in need of a savior, to anyone who hopes for something more than the fleeting things of this life. That, dear friends, is all of us; yes, we all need a savior.
I hope we won’t reduce the story to a sappy commercial B-movie representation. My prayer is that we will find the words and the way to share it and share it well. Now, go sneak one of those Cadbury eggs or some jelly beans while you reflect on the greatest story ever told. And remember … don’t look for the living among the dead!