Holy Week is upon us. San Saba’s First Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church are teaming up again this year to put together Community-Wide Holy Week Services. Today, tomorrow, and Wednesday there will be services at noon at First Presbyterian Church, with a light lunch to follow. On Friday, there will be a Good Friday service at First United Methodist Church. And on Sunday Morning, David and Barbara Gilger will host an Easter Morning Sunrise Service at their place at 6:30 am. Please join us. Here is the sermon for today’s service, preached by Rev. Harrison. The text for the service was John 13:1-5.
I believe in vampire stories. Not that they are literally true, exactly, I don’t think the Twilight movies are documentaries, but I believe that vampire stories are true in that they describe something true about our world, maybe in a way that’s hard to say normally, or dangerous to say normally, maybe it’s just something that we forget and we need to remind ourselves.
One of my favorite writers, Fred Clark, puts it this way: the truth that you can find in vampire stories goes something like this: anyone can become very powerful if they’re willing to prey on other people. Feed off the blood of others and you can have great power. This is just a fact. It’s how the pyramids were built. And Standard Oil.
It happens everywhere. I used to know a fellow who always wanted to be accepted, that was the big thing for him. So when he met a new group, he’d just pick out a kid who looked like he wasn’t as cool as everyone else, and make fun of him. And pretty soon, he’d be accepted as part of the group. The mean people in the group would think its funny. And the nice ones would be quiet because they’re afraid they might be next. He was willing to sacrifice that one guy’s feelings so that he could feel better. And so was everyone else.
So vampire stories are true in the sense that they describe a true thing about our world, which is that it is full of people and institutions that gain power by sucking the life out of someone else.
Vampire stories have their own set of rules and logic to them that are as true as the stories themselves. And of course the most familiar of those rules is that vampires are afraid of crosses. It’s not the only one, of course. Vampires are afraid of crosses, they don’t show up in mirrors, they can’t stand garlic, and they love chocolatey cereal, or at least Count Chocula does. Now the whole garlic thing doesn’t make any sense to me at all, but I want to talk today about why vampires and crosses.
A lot of people think that vampires are afraid of crosses because a cross is a holy object, a religious symbol. And since the cross is a holy object, we think it has some power to it, but in reality, the opposite is true. The symbol of the cross is powerless, because that’s what it represents. The whole point of the cross is that Jesus, even though he could have had all of the worldly power he wanted, chose powerlessness instead, and walked willingly to the cross.
That’s why vampires can’t stand the cross. Fred Clark puts it this way:
It’s the idea of the cross that gives them fits. The cross confronts vampires with their opposite — with the rejection of power and its single-minded pursuit. It suggests that no one is to be treated as prey — not even an enemy. The idea of the cross, in other words, suggests that vampires have it wrong, that they have it backwards, in fact, and that those others they regard as prey are actually, somehow, winning.
See vampires have it all figured out. It’s a dog eat dog world, its eat or be eaten, and the entire vampire understanding of the world is dependent upon the idea that the key to living forever is choosing to be predator instead of prey. So when they’re confronted with the cross, with the idea that someone would choose to be prey and through that choice demonstrate the way to eternal life, they can’t stand it.
During his last supper on earth, Jesus gave final instructions to his disciples. And one of these instructions, recorded in the Gospel of John, is the Scripture reading we just heard. “I am the true vine,” he said. “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
A lot of times we hear this passage and we think that Jesus is talking about doing everything right. Following all the rules they taught us in Sunday School, being at church on time every Sunday, letting people cut in front of you in the grocery store, reading the Bible every night and not saying too many swear words. None of those are bad things, don’t let me stop you from doing any of those things. But those are symptoms, those are what’s on the surface. Abiding in Jesus is about something deeper than that.
And it’s not about saying or believing all the right things either. There are no boxes you can check. There are no magic words you can say. It’s not even about having your beliefs line up perfectly, having the correct answers to theology questions (if correct answers to those questions actually exist), or even knowing exactly what you believe.
Abiding in Jesus is about staying connected to the vine. Every leaf and every bud on the vine remain connected to the vine. They get their nourishment from the vine, and they get their direction from the vine. And at the root of this is a question about how you see the world. Who do you believe is more powerful? Is it the vampires? Or is it the cross? Is it the powers of man, to command, to control, to coerce? Or is it the power of God, who could do all of those things, but chooses instead to love? Notice that I didn’t say “Who do you want to believe?” or “What do you say you believe” is the ultimate power in the universe. But when push comes to shove, and you have the choice between being predator and prey, laughing at your boss’s mean jokes or becoming the butt of them, giving an enemy what he deserves or giving him what he needs, bleeding or letting someone else bleed for you, which one do you believe will leave you ahead in the end?
And you know what? If you look at the world today, or almost any other day in history, then you can make a pretty good case for vampires.
There’s a Japanese author named Haruki Murakami. And he was given an award from a controversial organization, and there were a lot of folks saying you ought to refuse to accept the award, as a political statement. Well, he went to accept the award. But in his speech, he gave this metaphor that has stuck with me ever since.
He said “Between a high, solid wall and the egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.” Now this is foolishness. Eggs do not break walls. Eggs are encased in a fragile shell, that can crack if you drop it onto a mattress. It makes almost no sense to side with an egg thrown against a wall, just as it makes almost no sense to side with an empty cross against a bloodthirsty vampire.
Almost no sense. Almost any day in history. Because there was one day in history that things worked out differently, that the egg broke through the wall. When God chose to come down into our world, Jesus came down as one of us. As a unique irreplaceable soul, encased in a fragile shell. He could have been a wall, but he came down as an egg. And when his time came he found himself confronting one of the highest, most solid walls in history, the Roman Empire, one of the greatest vampires of all time. And beyond that, he confronted death itself.
In that one particular moment in history the difference between the power of vampires and the power of the cross is laid out for everyone to see. Vampires, are, to get a little bit more abstract, the powers of sin and destruction in our world. They only have the power to bring death; they can’t bring life. Vampires can terrorize a village, but can they bring peace to a valley? No. Vampires can keep themselves living in comfort, but can they comfort someone who has been laid bare? Vampires can take power for themselves by feeding off of others, but can they give it? No.
Jesus, on the other hand, gives up everything. And it’s through that gift that we can begin to see what it means to abide in him, to belong to the Kingdom of God. Through him, we see the power in powerlessness. Because it’s only through powerlessness that we can achieve what we truly want. If love does not come freely it is no longer love, but something else. Obedience. Payment. Obligation. A form of currency to be manipulated by the vampires of the world into some profit or advantage.
But in the cross we are given a glimpse of the potential to be healed. Not just to heal and give life to our bodies, but to heal whatever is broken within us, and give life to whatever is dead and dying. It is a power that can reach down into the deepest depths of our soul and bind the wounds that fester there and cool the fevers that rise up against us. It can fill us up when we’re empty, it can pick us up when we’ve fallen down. It can hold us when we have no where else to go. It understands us when nobody else does, it gives us strength when we have nothing. And it calls us to the cross, saying “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
So yeah, I believe in vampires stories. But I believe in resurrection stories more.
 Clark, Fred. “Vampires & Crosses” Slactivist, 10 September 2009. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2009/09/10/vampires-crosses/. Accessed January 9th, 2014.
 Buechner, Frederick. The Magnificent Defeat. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1966, 30.