Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Fight a Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies are all around us! 

Halloween is approaching, so signs of the "Zombie Apocalypse" are increasing.  The town where I live just had its annual "zombie walk." My son plays in a college marching band, and the theme of their halftime show is the "Zombie Apocalypse." The fourth season of a popular television show ("The Walking Dead" - the story of a post-apocalyptic America overrun by zombies) just began.  The DVD of the zombie movie "World War Z" recently topped the sales charts.

The "Zombie Apocalypse" is fictional, of course, but our culture's fascination with a world taken over by the living dead is perhaps another sign that our culture has an unhealthy relationship with the prospect of death, as well as the future of our world.  What can we do about this unhealthy relationship?

A simple gesture can help - the sign of the cross.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, I have noticed that Lutherans have recently made the sign of the cross upon themselves much more frequently.  Luther wrote that at the beginning of our morning and evening prayers, we should make the sign of the cross, but somewhere along the line, many Lutherans forgot to follow his advice.  Increasingly, though, it appears that we are returning to one of the most ancient forms of Christian devotion.

So, how does the sign of the cross help us deal with death and the future of the world?  And, just in case there really is a "Zombie Apocalypse", would making the sign of the cross help us against the undead?  These words from a Benedictine monk (which would be whole-heartedly endorsed by Luther, I think) help answer those questions:

"This gesture of signing oneself with the cross, like no other gesture, identifies the Christian as a 'Christian', as (one) whose salvation comes solely from Christ's death on the Cross, into which (we have) been drawn in a mysterious manner through the sacrament of baptism. . . .

For this reason the holy sign of the cross, which we make over ourselves or others, is always a profession of faith in the victory that Christ on the Cross won against every hostile power.  For the Fathers always made use of this sign, also, whenever they knew that they were confronted with these hostile powers.  Indeed, Anthony the Great (one of the Desert Fathers of the early Church) taught his disciples that the demons and phantasms were in reality 'nothing and quickly disappear, especially when a person (is armed) with faith and the sign of the cross.' . . . .

As great as the power of the sign of the cross is, it is not a question of a magical gesture.  It is faith that makes it mighty!"

(from pages 181-183 of "Earthen Vessels:  The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition" by Gabriel Bunge, O.S.B.).


  1. Why did Lutherans lose the practice of making the Sign of the Cross during worship and prayer? (Was it too "outward, external," too "Catholic"?) What do you think about exorcists using a Crucifix? What do you think about Saint Kateri Tekakwitha carving a Cross onto tree trunks? Do you think the Sign of the Cross and the Crucifix have power against demonic spirits?

    1. I've been told that I seem Roman Catholic when I make the sign of the in our worship services. That may be why it died out. To me it's a reminder of my baptism--that God has claimed me.

      In my understanding all other uses of the sign of the cross fall under "wrongful use". It's not a magic charm or spiritual shield--that's superstitious use.

  2. Thanks for your comments!

    My educated guess is that the sign of the cross started dying out in Lutheran churches around the same time that Lutherans decided they wanted to look more like generic Protestants than Catholics. This was especially true in North American Lutherans in the 1800s, who wanted to look like most American Protestants, i.e., Calvinists.

    As to the use of the sign of the cross and/or the crucifix, I agree that care must be used to avoid making its use look like the use of a magic talisman. Having said that, Christianity is an incarnational religion. Therefore - the ordinary can bear the holy, and the finite can bear the infinite. Bread and wine can carry the body and blood of Christ. Water can be accompanied by the power of the Word of God in baptism. So, I can't rule out the fact that a symbolic action by a human, or a cross made out of wood or metal, could be used by God against evil.

    I don't know much about St. Kateri Tekakwitha - I would like to learn more about her, as I am interested in how the spirituality of Native Americans has intersected with Christianity.