Once Jesus repulsed a group of his hearers by asking them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. In the same speech (John 6), he promised those who did so that he would raise them from the dead.
Flesh-eating. No longer dead. What—was Jesus promising to make them zombies?
The horror of the zombie is its ability to infect others with deadness. It is part of an apocalyptic horror scenario in which the world is wiped out by the living dead, infecting the living with the grave. Making more living dead.
One scientific explanation for the origins of the zombie takes us to the island of Haiti, where human beings entered a trance-like state through messing with the poison found in puffer fish. The zombie is poisoned, and so becomes less-than-human, corpse-like.
Jesus is known for being an ‘apocalyptic preacher’. Is this the kind of apocalyptic scenario he brought? A horror scenario. Death-infection. A poison that makes people less than human?
Far from it. His message was apocalyptic because it spoke of the most radical transformation of all: resurrection. Grave gone, no more influence. No death-infection, but new life-health. No poison, just an eternal antidote. Not less than human, but truly human at last.
Eating his flesh and drinking his blood is pretty dramatic language, for sure. His shockingly realistic metaphor caused trouble in the early days, as people wondered if the new breed of persons called Christians practiced some kind of cannibalism. Nowadays there are other kinds of flesh-eating monsters that may spring to the contemporary mind.
He drew his language from the sacrificial systems of the ancient world. An animal was killed, offered to the gods, then eaten. The ones who ate the meat (the ‘flesh and blood’) participated in the sacrifice and whatever benefits it was supposed to bring from the gods. Jesus’ realistic language of eating his flesh and drinking his blood was speaking about himself as a sacrifice. The benefits of his sacrifice would be ‘eternal life’ and ‘being raised up again at the last day’. The realistic language of eating was metaphor for believing that he could do so. To eat of his sacrifice would be to come to him, believe in him, and so find yourself heading for a resurrection from the grave.
The missing link is Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. He went through death, defeating its power once and for all. He is now alive from the dead, never to die again. If there is an apocalyptic ‘infection’, then it is Jesus’ ability to share his resurrection from the dead with others. If there is an apocalyptic ‘poison’, then it is Jesus’ promise to bring resurrection life to those who ask him for it. And this will not bring them to a less-than-human trance-like state; it will make them truly alive, truly human for the first time ever.
Jesus’ promise to raise people up beyond the grave is not a promise that he will make you into a zombie. The zombie is very much the old body, that is why it is decayed, rotting, spooky, etc. It is the undead, or the still dead, or the animated dead. But whatever way you imagine it, the grave still very much clings to the newly-animated rotting corpse—thus the need for a good set of horror make-up at Halloween. Jesus’ resurrection hope promises that we will overcome death; we will be given a new body, restored, renewed, recognizably connected to who we are/were, but totally fitting for the world to come, no longer corrupt (rotting) or inadequate, or with any blemish.
Bring on the day. Bring on the dawn of the Christian dead.