“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt. 27:50-53).
The Easter zombies mentioned in these verses never get a role in the Easter pageant, nor do they get many mentions in Easter sermons. It’s understandable why: they were overshadowed by a larger event. I’m sure they will be the subject of some favorite stories to tell in the sweet hereafter, but in the meantime, I’m only certain of this when it comes to the Easter zombies: they probably died again. Sure, maybe like Elijah they were translated directly into heaven. But in the absence of evidence, I think they probably looked similar to Lazarus: they were raised by Jesus but still suffered the penultimate death before the restoration of all things. The zombies, like Lazarus, the Centurion’s daughter, and the widow of Nain’s son, all had one more temporal death to suffer. But knowing Jesus’ power over death, their final physical demise was just a formality as they could proclaim with St. Paul in 1st Corinthians:
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
Our modern obsession with zombies seems to be little more than another avenue for us to obsess about death. And as long as people die, any story of resurrection should make us pause and wonder. Stories about zombies, or other reanimated corpses, have been popular as long as we’ve told stories. From ancient religious texts to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the Walking Dead, the idea of the dead coming back to life is an impulse seemingly embedded in the human soul. That something might happen on the last day, or someday, that would bring the dead back to life is the ultimate hope in the face of death.
Only St. Matthew records the strange tale of the wandering saints on Holy Weekend, but all of the Gospels record momentous events taking place at the resurrection. Whether it was the miracle of the thief repenting on the cross, the centurion beating his breast and confessing Christ after seeing the Savior die, or the rocks that split and the tearing of the temple curtain, strange things were afoot between noon and three on that first, tragic Good Friday. However the Gospel writers record their story, the point is the same: nothing would now be the same. Access to God via the temple? Death as the last defeat? Even condemned criminals and the strong arm of the state see in this crucifixion something different, something that shakes the earth and makes itself known to all the living and dead.
It is helpful to remember the deeply Semitic and apocalyptic context of the Gospel of St. Matthew as we look at this strange text. Temporal resurrections do not save us, but instead direct us to look for life, even in death. Easter zombies and the like direct our attention to the ultimate promise given in Christ, and the implications of this promise for the whole world. For Matthew, they were no more out of place than the raising of Lazarus because they foreshadowed the ultimate resurrection to come. I’m convinced Matthew thought this episode was no more strange than the raising of Lazarus and the other temporal resurrections that foreshadow the ultimate resurrection.
Easter zombies and the like direct our attention to the ultimate promise given in Christ.
Easter doesn’t mean there is no longer any death, but rather that death is transformed. Lost in all of the excitement from the first Easter were those who still died that night: some from long, drawn-out diseases while others from instant and tragic circumstances. The resurrection ultimately reversed death, but it does not mitigate or change the fact that all still must die. Yet despite our inevitable deaths, it is Christ’s sacrifice that guarantees us a transformation into glory (1 Cor. 15:50ff).
In the modern media morass, it isn’t surprising that podcasts and documentaries devoted to death, particularly murder, dominate the charts. I confess to being one of the million who have binged most every Netflix murder docuseries, and one of my favorite podcasts is ironically called “My Favorite Murder.” However, without the resurrection of all, as foreshadowed in the curious story of the Easter zombies, these stories of murderous villains and lives cut short would haunt me.
But the death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent resurrection of the dead on the last day is so central to the Gospel that we can find this hope in even the strangest episodes recorded in the Gospels. The Zombies of Easter give us one more story that death is not the last word, but instead in Christ, the end of life is followed by resurrection, reanimation, and re-creation. Happy Easter, Alleluia, and Come Lord Jesus.