Zombies have been making the rounds lately. Not real ones, of course, because there are no real ones. It is to their great disadvantage that they do not exist, considering how popular they are. But then, they would have no great advantages in existing, either. While they may experience a certain brute satisfaction, their intellectual life and their spiritual life, I would think, are horribly wanting. But it’s hard to say and hard to argue about because of the appalling lack of hard evidence.
But what is the fascination with zombies? It is, surprisingly, not a question for Halloween, but a question for Easter. The answer is that we are drawn to the dead because we believe in eternal life. However, in a fallen and corrupt world, even our idea of resurrection is fallen and corrupt. We don’t have life after death; we have the undead. Even if it is just a fantasy and a low-level form of entertainment, it is still a reflection of taking a good idea and befouling it. Art imitating death. At the other end of human episode, we have allowed the same sort of sick twist: instead of the glory of new life emerging from the womb, we have the cold and clinical destruction of life. Instead of babies, we have the unborn. But that is not a fantasy. That is a tragic reality.
These two sad extremes are, of course, precisely the opposite of the Christian perspective, a despair in the place of hope, and a savage sorrow in the place of joy. The contrast is even more evident in this season of Easter. I will tell you why because a friend of mine, Dr. Stuart Kolner, who, like me, found his way to the Catholic Church thanks in great part to the influence of G.K. Chesterton, just sent me the most marvelous email:
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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As Passiontide becomes Easter, I have found myself dwelling on the notion of a “quickening,” which has repeatedly suggested itself to me while meditating on the Triduum. In human experience, the two most implausible circumstances for a quickening are surely a sealed womb and a sealed tomb. And yet it has pleased the God of Surprises to cause a stirring of life in both. Possibly not an original thought with me, but I believe that GKC would have enjoyed the linguistic parallels as well as the divine audacity Our Father so often uses to remind us of our mysterious origins.
As I say, marvelous.
The sealed womb and the sealed tomb. The two most unlikely places to find life. It is fitting that there should be this “linguistic parallel” (a rhyme in this case) between the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection because they are the matching end-pieces in the life of Christ. The sealed womb is the Virgin Mary. A place undefiled and untouched. The sealed tomb is where the body of Christ lay after his cruel death. It was literally sealed. Pontius Pilate put his mark on the stone over the tomb and posted guards by it. Another place that could not be entered, could not be touched. And yet there was a quickening within both places.
The Incarnation is the greatest of all paradoxes, the God who becomes flesh. It is why we celebrate both Christmas and Easter. The Incarnation makes us gather around both the manger and the empty tomb with great rejoicing. When we are rejoicing, when we are celebrating—as well we should be—theology is not the first thing that comes to mind. But theology—that is, the logic of God—explains why we are so happy. It is necessary that God should come as a baby in order that he might die as a man. It is necessary that he should die as a man in order that he might rise from the dead. There can be no greater hope than eternal life.
We of course believe that God became flesh at the moment he was miraculously conceived within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mother, an event we always commemorate in the midst of Lent with the Solemnity of the Incarnation. But as Dr. Kolner points out, the first quickening within the womb, when the body of the baby Christ started to move, certainly has a parallel when the body of the dead Christ moved within the tomb. And the latter was not a zombie. It was the Risen Lord.
Divine audacity. That is the most Chestertonian phrase in Dr. Kolner’s perfectly worded email, the combining of two words that do not normally go together. We do not expect God to be audacious. But it is enormously enjoyable when we realize that he is. We know that it is one of life’s pleasing thrills to be audacious, to be daring, to take a risk, to boldly break the conventions. And only Catholic theology allows the Author of Life the ability to enjoy not just life, but the thrill of life, to be audacious.
One more thing: Chesterton sees the ongoing theme of Resurrection in the Christian story when he points out that there have been times in history when the Church has seemed to be dead, destroyed by some physical event or foolish philosophy or huge heresy or giant scandal or complete corruption. And each time it has somehow come back to life because it has a God who knows his way out of the grave. As Dr. Kolner suggests, we can easily imagine Chesterton completing the thought by saying that it is just as astounding that we have a God who knows his way out of the womb as one who knows his way out of the tomb.
Editor’s note: The image above is titled “The Resurrection of Christ” painted by Pietro Perugino in 1496-99.