Blessed are the undead / Invocation

The opening scene of The Walking Dead culminates in a police officer shooting a little girl in the head. There was no one else around, and she only approached him slowly. But with one half of her face missing and that look in her eyes it’s easy to understand why he did it.

Zombie stories tap into something very primal within us. The fear we experience is not primarily due to gruesome injuries or freakish eyeballs; it’s something much deeper than that. It’s the spectre of the undead that haunts us. We all love to hate death, but once it stops playing by the rules and people who die aren’t really dead we lose a fundamental power over the world. This is why a policeman shoots a little girl in the head from close range. The alternative is too terrifying.

The image of the little zombie girl and the tall, armed police officer reveals why the spectre of the undead is so vital to us. It opens us to the haunting reality that we would prefer to kill and be done with. That our power and privilege has victims. That whatever we do to ignore them and seal off the dark places, those victims slowly advance on our consciousness, demanding our recognition.

I don’t know about you but I’m a haunted house, fending off zombies every day.

Matthew’s Gospel – where we find the Beatitudes – is probably the most widely-known zombie apocalypse of all time. Although weirdly most people pretend it isn’t one.

The story is, of course, a kind of biography about Jesus – his birth, life and death. Near the end (SPOILER ALERT) Jesus gets killed, and at that moment all kinds of freakish stuff happens. The sky goes dark, there’s an earthquake, and dead people wander out of their tombs and into Jerusalem!

Who are they off to haunt? The Roman guards are the ones who freak-out first. They are the powerful ones after all. Instantly their Centurion goes weak-kneed and proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God, which is basically tantamount to defecting the army since that’s the title claimed by Caesar. I like to think they also paid a visit on the Temple Sanhedrin, the powerful religious figures who took out the contract on Jesus’ life. The undead threaten the powerful the most.

But what do they threaten them with? Are they infected with some virus which will destroy all of humankind? Do they seek living souls on which to feed? Or is that classic zombie plot-line a metaphor for the deeper truth of the walking dead: that until there is justice, there will be ghosts that haunt and maim and menace the present order of the world.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is the Messiah, but not like any version of the Messiah anyone was expecting. He is a revolutionary, but not with a revolution like anyone was expecting.

He takes on the powerful with creative, non-violent resistance, and invokes the spectre of a new world.

Far more threatening than weapons (which Rome could always beat) are the ghosts of the oppressed which return to haunt the powerful. They cannot be killed and so remain a permanent reminder of the illegitimacy of the system and its oppression. It’s a non-violent revolution, but it is more terrifying than all the tools of war.

And it all begins on a mountain, with Jesus and his disciples and a new community, with the blessing for the undead; the invocation of ghosts – more commonly called the Beatitudes.

Here come the depressed, they own the future.
Here come the grieving, they will be comforted.
Here come the enslaved, they will have the whole earth.
Here come the ones who are starved of justice, they will be filled.
Here come the gracious, they will be shown grace.
Here come the uncorrupted, they will see God.
Here come the peacemakers, they will be protected.
Here come the oppressed, they own the future.
Here you come, you oppressed, you wrongly accused. Take heart, they did this to your heroes whose ghosts will not die.

Matt Valler