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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Cannibal Christians: Zombies and Communion

I just finished a grad course on early church history, and I rather enjoyed it. I also took a similar course in my undergrad, but the two differed significantly. The grad course focused mostly on events and people, whereas the undergrad class was like walking through an evolution of Christian doctrine in the first few centuries A.D. One of my favorite studies has consistently been the first- and second-century church: its malleability, influence, diversity, and process intrigue me so. The separation of Christianity from Judaism and the various local persecutions are interesting as well. But one of the most memorable aspects to me about the infant church is the misconceptions others had about her, of which I will highlight three.

First, Christians were thought to be into incest and orgies. Creepy, right? That one caught me off guard a little when I first heard it. Why crazy sex parties? The idea is that when Christians gathered together, they shared in ἀγάπη (agapē), which is usually translated as "love," but may also designate what was called a "love feast." This love feast is what we might call Communion, the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist (or thanksgiving). Originally, it was actually a feast, an entire meal, where people came and were filled, not just spiritually, but physically as well. The sharing of the Christian love was thought to be incestuous, because men were calling their wives "sisters," and other such issues arose.

Second, Christians were thought to be atheists. This misconception confused me even more than the last one. How could Christians, many of which were also Jews, be called atheistic? In Roman culture, every public, community activity was a worship to the gods, usually the Caesar. The emperor was often deified, a lot like the Pharaohs, or King Xerxes in 300. For those who refuse to attend the theatre, the coliseum, or other such public spectacles, this was a slap in the face of the emperor. And if they do not worship the gods as the other people do, then they must be believers of nothing.

Third, Christians were thought to be cannibals. Cannibalism actually makes the most sense to me. When the Christians gathered for their love feast, what did they eat? The body and blood of some man called Christ (one person called him Chrestus, which is not too far from the Greek Christos) were consumed by these people, and they even ate children—so the rumors went.

Last week I wrote on the theological connection(s) between the zombies of The Walking Dead and Christians. It was . . . not positive. We seem to be inherently destructive, selfish, and unsatisfiable. But let's consider, just for a moment, how walkers fit into the picture, the portait of ourselves, when we come to the Table of Jesus. We come, many of us, week after week to take part in this part of church. And for many of us, it's nothing particularly special; it's just a piece of the package. We slog through the doors, do what we do every week: sing the songs, pray the prayers, shake the right hands, hug the right people (if you're into that, that is). We listen to the sermon, take the bread and wine, finish our business, and get outta there. Like zombies and walkers, we simply do what we feel we have to do. We may even do it simply because we feel there is just no way not to do it.

On the other hand, however, there may be a different kind of resurrected creature in the crowds. This creature, like its fellows, is driven by hunger, it thirsts for blood. It cannot help being drawn in to that which feeds it. It seeks flesh and blood, but not that of its fellows, or even the body and blood of men. It comes to the Table and finds itself filled by the body and blood found on the table. Its hunger and thirst are so great that it cannot be repelled. It does not come out of obligation, but necessity. As it hungers for the body and thirsts for the blood, so too does it hunger and thirst for righteousness. It finds sustenance in nothing else, but it needs for nothing else. It is satisfied by what it finds at the Table, but it ever longs for more. What it finds is good, and it does not run out. It is given life by that body and blood, and the blood never runs dry, and the body is abundant.

In some way or another, we're all zombies. The question is this: What do you seek to fill you? Do you feed on obligation, or necessity? Are you still hungry and thirsty?

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