Monday, 15 April 2013

Shaun of the Dead: He Is Coming Back


Zombies. And Jesus. Intriguing, heh?

Shaun of the Dead is, in many ways, a film about a pub. 'The Winchester' is the setting of a scene in which five characters sit alone around a table, waiting. In the middle of a zombie apocalypse the central character, Shaun, has led a hoard of zombies away from the pub in a diversion. Shaun's Mum (Barbara), his ex-girlfriend (Liz) and three other friends (Dianne, the pessimistic David and Shaun's best friend Ed) are part of an unlikely group of survivors brought together by circumstance and by Shaun. With Shaun gone all they can do is wait. Look up the scene if you can, but otherwise here it is in dialogue form.
DAVID: There's no lights. There's no power. Where are the owners? And there's that bloody great hole in the window.
ED: You did that, you twat.
DAVID: Well, someone had to do something! I don't know if you noticed back there but we were in a spot of bother. Somebody has to take control of the situation and if none of you are prepared to accept that responsibility then perhaps...I should.
BARBARA: Will Shaun be gone long?
LIZ: He'll be back soon.
DAVID: How can you know that?
DIANNE: I don't think he'd leave us, Davs.
DAVID: Wouldn't he? How can you put your faith in a man you spectacularly binned for being unreliable? A man whose idea of a romantic nightspot and an impenetrable fortress are the same thing? This is a pub! We are in a pub! What are we going to do?
ED: Get a round in?
LIZ: Let's just keep quiet and wait for Shaun. We can barricade the window when he gets back. 
DAVID: What then? How long? Days? Weeks? Months? What about food? What are we going to eat?
DIANNE: Toasties.
ED: There's a Breville out back...
DAVID: Oh, great then! Saved by nibbles! That must be why Shaun took us here before he buggered off.
LIZ: He's coming back.
DAVID: Why? Because he promised? And, even if he does, do you think that his master plan is going to extend to anything more than sitting and eating peanuts in the dark? What, is he just going to stroll in and suddenly everything's going to be OK?
LIZ: I don't know, David! I don't know any more than you do. What I do know is that we're here now and we have to make the best of it. Ed, give me a double vodka.
ED: Right you are.
DIANNE: I'll have a drink too, actually. Would you like a drink, Barbara?
BARBARA: Hello...
DAVID: Right, great. Fuck it. That's what we'll do. We'll all have a party. How about that? We'll all get completely smashed. Oh look, we've got our nibbles. We've got our Mini Cheddars. Our Twigglets. Oh look, Hog Lumps.
At this point Shaun's hand dramatically appears from off-screen and grabs the Hog Lumps that David has thrown across the bar. Shaun is back.

BARBARA: Pickle!
SHAUN: Hello, Mum. Alright? Everybody OK? Any sign of John and Bernie?
DIANNE: No, we haven't seen them.
SHAUN: Have you checked upstairs?
DIANNE: No, I think it's locked.
SHAUN: What's the front situation?
DIANNE: Dead, same as the power.
LIZ: Nice of you to join us.
SHAUN: Yeah, well...I promised, didn't I?
What do we have in this scene? Waiting. Hope. Doubt. Mocking. Despair. Determination. Conviction. Essentially, David's convinced that Shaun's not coming back and that, even if he does, he won't improve their situation. Liz and Dianne maintain that he will return, even if the circumstances don't look promising. And one of them's wrong.

We are all in the pub when it comes to Jesus. We know Him through His past and we know Him in the present but we also know that He's coming back. And so we wait. Sometimes the waiting seems like it'll go on forever. It's easy to get momentum from excitement but hope - the slow-burning hope that's real but which demands patience through the decades - is far more difficult to cling onto. Has Jesus really changed anything? Is He just another figure in world history who had His time but is now confined to the history books? In the words of the church's opponents in the first century, "Jesus promised to come again. Where is he? Our fathers have died, but the world continues the way it has been since it was made." (2 Peter 3:4).

These thoughts aren't new. The nagging feeling that David might be right, that Jesus isn't coming back after all, has been with Christians throughout the centuries. For me, there are constructive reasons for hope, however. These are the things worth hanging onto when faith seems stupid.

Firstly, we know that Jesus is coming back because we know that He's alive. I mentioned last time the importance of the resurrection for me and how it's a vital, non-negotiable supporting truth for my faith. For what it's worth, the same was true for the first Christians. Paul wrote that, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is worth nothing, and your faith is worth nothing." (1 Corinthians 15:14). 1 Corinthians 15 is actually a good example of how that faith functions. Because Jesus has been risen from the dead (v20) it necessarily follows that He will return as judge and king (v23b-28). The resurrection is the great fact that underpins Christian hope: without it there is no hope but with it there is a sure and unshakeable future in store that we can depend on Jesus returning in person to fulfil.

Secondly, we know that Jesus is coming back because He said so. Shaun's word is what helps to maintain Liz's faith in him. If someone promises you something, whether you believe them or not will depend on your assessment of their character. Are they trustworthy? Have they stood by their word in the past? Jesus repeatedly taught that He would return. For instance, He told His followers, "I will not leave you all alone like orphans; I will come back to you" (John 14:18). He's given us a promise; the only question is, 'will we trust Him?'.

This was a big issue for the first Christians. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that it's one of the major pastoral concerns of the New Testament (you see this, for example, in 2 Peter 3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Hebrews 10:35-39 and Revelation 3:11). Many believers had given up wealth, prestige, jobs and the respect of their family for Jesus. Now it seemed as if His promised return hadn't materialised. A particular concern was what would happen to the Christians who had already died (1 Corinthians 15:17-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:13). The Bible affirms that the passing of time doesn't stop Jesus's return but that it will happen in God's timing and no sooner.

Sometimes it will feel like David is right. Sometimes it will feel like, despite Shaun's heroism in leading away the zombies, he isn't coming back. Sometimes the taunts of the unconvinced will seem louder and more convincing. Sometimes we'll have nothing other than Liz's desperate, relentless retort, "He's coming back". And yet, in a moment, he's there. In the twinkling of an eye, Liz's faith is vindicated. Shaun looks after everyone's welfare and assumes control. Shaun isn't a perfect analogy for Jesus. As it turns out, his return ushers in exactly what David was expecting: eating peanuts in the dark. But he does give us an analogy of what it's like in the waiting.

Shaun didn't come back to life and his character isn't faultless. But we have a God who did and is. And He is coming back.

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