Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Indra’s Web, John the Baptist, and all the things… – The Rev. Michelle Meech
January 08, 2023
I’m a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I started watching it when I was in seminary… which is the same time Netflix and Hulu started streaming TV and movies. So Buffy was the first show I binge-watched. Over the last 12+ years now, I have watched the entire series about 6-7 times.
Now, for those of you who DO know the show, please allow me a moment to give everyone else a brief overview: Buffy is a high schooler who discovers that she has special powers that enable her to fight demons. With the help of her Watcher Giles, who is the school librarian, Buffy and her friends Zander and Willow, learn to navigate both high school and demons.
It’s a bit outlandish, right? There is a reason I didn’t jump on the Buffy bandwagon when it was first out in the 90’s. But when one of the episodes was shown in a class on religion and pop culture, and I spoke to my professor about it, I decided to give it a go.
If you just give me a moment, you’ll see where I’m going with this.
The slayer is imbued with power. She is “the chosen one.” The intro to every episode tells us this. So she’s special. She has the strength, the agility, and the instinct to defeat evil. As we come to know Buffy, through 7 seasons of the series, one of the things that is central to her character is that she pushes against the way traditional slayers are trained because she doesn’t want to be apart from the world.
She wants to be in the world, with her family and friends. Part of an interconnected web. And in response, her friends start to develop skills and powers of their own. One might say, because Buffy is in their lives – encouraging, supporting, and loving them. And Buffy is less isolated because of them, giving her more wisdom that only supports her power.
This dynamic culminates in the final episode, when Buffy is faced with the worst possible foe – the very incarnation of evil itself, which they have appropriately called the First Evil. Her method for handling it is not to get bigger and better herself, to take on more power, which would mean risking the integrity of her very being. Rather, Buffy chooses to share her power – her slayer power – with all the potential slayers all over the world. Instantly making them all slayers.
Because of this choice, there is no more “chosen one. There is, instead, a whole host of slayers. And this… is what destroys the First Evil.
Now, far be it from me to equate Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Jesus of Nazareth…
But let’s look at today’s Gospel from Matthew for a minute.
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
John the Baptist is expressing something here that I think we all experience. Faced with power in his presence, John says:
surely, you don’t mean me… surely you don’t think that I have the strength to do this thing… surely you can’t expect me to have the authority to preside over such an event as this…
And Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” It is proper, Jesus says, for us to do this in this way. It is proper, he says, for you to baptize me so that we can fulfill God’s Will together. And this, my friends, is the essence of the Body of Christ. The sharing of God’s Glory (God’s power, if you will), in order to fulfill God’s Will.
I think too often, we deny our own abilities, our own power… like John the Baptist in this story. As if we don’t want to own a part of ourselves. Are we too scared? We also sometimes deny the impact we have on others, making apologies very difficult sometimes and forgiveness even harder. There may be many reasons we have for this thinking and behavior, some emotional distress that brings us back to habits and behaviors that keep us in just the right place.
A place that seems like balance but it’s really just comfortable. A homeostasis. A preferred identity.
And what is truly amazing to me, is that God uses us anyhow… despite our own unwillingness. God’s Will will be done. That much is clear. But wouldn’t it be more fun if we all decided to stop being offended and afraid? If we gave up our predilections and penchants, and just showed up for each other? Embracing who we are being called to become?
I say, yes! That would be more fun. Although, I have to admit that I have trouble with this, just like everyone else.
I don’t know if I’ve shared this before with you all, but a scientist named Candace Pert discovered that emotions are really peptides, the building blocks of protein, and these peptides float in our bodies. As our cells experience emotion, they create more receptors for particular peptides, meaning that our cells start to yearn for the same peptides. So if you spend a lot of time being sad, your own cells start to crave those peptides and start to lose the ability to receive peptides for other emotions. So we literally become addicted to our own preferred emotional state.
Talk about the First Evil.
To give ourselves over to our own emotional state is just about the most joyless thing I can think of. It’s important to experience emotions, yes. To know them and express them. But to live there? And the more we do, the more difficult it is to actively participate with God in the Reign of God. The more difficult it is to actually show up as ourselves… our true selves.
But our healing comes, by starting again. By actively making the choice to participate in the Reign of God. We literally rebuild our own cells and we empty ourselves. We become transformed.
Joy comes in this self-emptying behavior, not in the homeostasis. When we empty ourselves, we relax the emotional attachment to the changes and chances of this life and come back to the ground of our being, we come back to God. Not that we don’t experience pain or disappointment or shame or fear. But they are not what drive us. They are there. But we… the true we, the true us… we do not belong to them, these emotional states. We belong to God.
And in this, we come to understand more about purpose and love and community. That we, collectively, are this web of interconnected points of light. That what happens over there impacts what happens over here. And what happens to me effects you. And when one person dies, it sets off a wave all over the web and when one returns to us after an absence, that brings strength back.
In Buddhist and Hindu thought, this is called Indra’s Web or Indra’s Net. It’s described this way by author Francis Cook:
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering “like” stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring. [i]
When Jesus says, “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness”… he’s talking about the ways in which we all have a place in this larger web, what we call the Reign of God as Christians. Where love is what holds all these points of light together. And because we have a place, we are called to show up. Why? Because it matters.
Something I learned in seminary… besides the late-night lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that is, is that without you, I have no power. In the Episcopal Church, a priest cannot preside over Eucharist unless others are present. If no one were here with me, effectively, I have no sacramental power. Because Eucharist, and Baptism too, are events that are about the power of the collected community. The priest is here as a kind of channel, a vessel… to point to and direct, to bring our collective vision into focus.
And it makes sense to me. It makes total sense. Because as your priest, I not only note your absence, I actually feel your absence. Why do you think the pandemic was so hard on all of us? We weren’t together. It was literally painful and so lonely to preach to people over Zoom, to not be able to share this space with you and worship with you here.
And when I write a sermon, I think of all of you sitting where you normally sit. I think of Sue and Roger sitting over there. I think of Mike sitting right here. I think of Claudette sitting over there. I think of where people are sitting in the choir, each and every one of you. I picture each of you… as I’m writing. So I’m not writing this alone you see. You’re with me.
Each point of light on Indra’s Web. Each member of the Body of Christ. Each one a slayer. Each one a beloved necessary child of God. This is what is proper.
Jesus needed John the Baptist. John’s light was a part of the whole web. Jesus did not come to hold power like some jealous mogul sitting in an ivory tower, barking commands at servants, treating them as voiceless objects in his world.
Jesus came to us to show us that power is not to be held, it is to be shared. Which is, the message of the final episode of Buffy, by the way. And Jesus says, this is what is proper. You matter to me. You all matter to one another.
So don’t ever think otherwise. Because our preferred emotional state, that First Evil will try to lie to you. We are one another’s keeper. We belong to each other.
This Table, after all, is our communion table… our community’s table. We reconcile ourselves to God and to one another here.
And that Font is our community font… where we baptize people together into this Body of Christ, this part of Indra’s web. And where we renew our Baptismal Vows together. So, let us now renew our Baptismal Vows together.