This one comes to us from Juliette Alvey.

I could never be a hunter. This is not a moral judgment but rather a statement about my squeamishness. I was just driving home and saw a raccoon get hit by the car in front of me. I felt my gut wrench as the animal lay still in the middle of the road. Death does not seem natural, but since no creature escapes it, that pretty much is the definition of natural. But then why is it so revolting? Would it be less revolting if the animal died of old age? I personally don’t think so. It is the idea of a body no longer breathing and a heart no longer pumping that gets me. Bodies that have lived and moved, but are now completely still, are creepy. I almost expect the body to suddenly start moving again, which would actually be even creepier.

We took our kids to a science museum the other day which had an exhibit about the human body. As part of the exhibit the museum displayed “body slices.” I tried to get past the idea of this being an actual person’s body that they sliced into a thin, back-lit piece so that the rest of us could learn about where the different organs are located, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking, “That was a person who lived and breathed and had a life and a family.”

There is so much gruesomeness around us that we explain away as normal. “Oh it’s just road-kill,” or “It’s an intriguing and educational science exhibit.” We become accustomed to the strangest things. In this Halloween season, we focus on death and dead things, and we turn it into a game. We make it scary in a silly way, and that is one way of coping with it and making the strange and unknown less frightening.

As much as we fear death, we cope with it because it is “natural.” People do not run out of a funeral room screaming during a viewing of an open casket. The person died, and even though it is difficult, we expect to see the person looking still and lifeless. However, if that person suddenly sat up in the casket, that would be a different story. Dead things coming back to life are more frightening than dead thing itself. There is a reason our culture is obsessed with zombies. Dead things are supposed to stay dead, not walk around. There have been a couple of real-life examples of “zombies” recorded, but in these cases they were declared dead but then dug up again. So when they appeared again to their loved ones, they seemed like ghosts or zombies, but really they were never completely dead in the first place. Everyone knows that the dead stay dead. 

So you can sympathize with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them after they witnessed him dying on a cross. If seeing him take his last breath and burying his body in a tomb was frightening, imagine seeing him walking around after the fact!

The gospel of Luke describes the scene:

While they were still talking about this [Jesus allegedly appearing to the men on the road to Emmaus], Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43)

Jesus immediately eliminates all of the frightening (yet logical) explanations for his appearance. He shows them his hands and feet and tells them to touch him. He even eats food in front of them to really drive home the point. That takes care of the ghost theory. He speaks to them in his own voice, and the disciples spent enough time with him to know that it was really him. His body was not being possessed or used by someone else. He was not shuffling around with his arms out and grunting, so that rules out any zombie theory. Some have tried to use the real-life zombie theory to say that Jesus was not really dead in the first place. There are plenty of apologetics resources to tackle that question, but bottomline, the Romans knew how to execute. When they stuck a spear into someone’s side and declared them dead, they were dead. This is not a case of reanimation but rather resurrection!

As gruesome as the crucifixion was, the sight of the dead being raised was understandably even more terrifying… at least at first. Once the disciples saw Jesus’ flesh, heard him speak, and remembered the words he had promised about rising on the third day (Matt 16:21), their fear turned to “joy and amazement.” The only explanation was the one that felt too good to be true: Jesus was risen from the dead, body and soul.

The moment that Jesus died on the cross, a lot of crazy and spooky events took place. The curtain of the temple was torn. The earth shook. And as if this wasn’t scary enough, “…the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matt 27: 52-53). Say what?! Our curiosity and fascination for dead people walking around leaves us completely unsatisfied by the amount of information we are given in this passage. This is probably why we don’t talk often about this part of Scripture because there is so much we don’t know. What were they experiencing before they came out of their tombs? What did they look like? Who did they appear to, and what did they say?! We are not given the answers to these questions, but I would imagine that their purpose was to proclaim Jesus as the “firstborn from the dead” (Rev 1:5) and to be living proof of the resurrection from the dead through him.

The dead coming back to life seems unnatural and wrong, but on that one scary and mysterious day, Jesus appeared in flesh and blood as his resurrected self, and it was the most beautiful miracle in all of history. This time the dead coming to life brought joy and amazement, and one day we will rise with him (and the other bodies who broke out of their tombs) as the glorious dead brought to new life.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?