It’s a very silly, funny, clever song based on a film scene that is equally silly funny and clever but perhaps a little darker than its musical counterpart because it doesn’t spoof the Black Plague with tap dancing and jazz hands.
I’m talking about the tuneful ditty “I'm Not Dead Yet” from Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”
If you’re familiar with this play and/or “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” you probably know the song/scene begins as a cart filled with corpses lumbers down a muddy, excrement-laden medieval street while the cart carrier continually yells out, sort of like a blasé frosty malt vendor at a baseball game, “Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!”
Someone enters dragging an inert body and says “Here’s one!” However, that body suddenly kicks a little and says, weakly-yet-assuredly, “But I’m not dead yet!”
“But you soon will be [dead]!” is his carrier’s response. The body (his name is Fred) is plopped upon the other cadavers and he lays there lifeless for a few seconds. Then he sits up with a start and begins a bunch show-stopping, toe-tapping singing, dancing and carrying on.
Here is part of the song (apparently legally videotaped, as this excerpt is featured in a production ad).
It’s very funny watching not only Fred folderol around the stage to prove his un-corpishness but also witness the other dead bodies on the cart suddenly come to life to provide a zesty chorus.
As the song progresses Fred is conked on the head so he’s really dead. No, maybe not. After a couple of moments he once again arises to join the rest of the newly-restored carcasses as they march off the cart and join Arthur’s knights on their journey to Camelot. Fred delightedly offers to be a musician for this merry group and hopes it will lead to their starring in a Michael Moore documentary.
Yes, it’s all very silly, funny and clever.
And would make for great “special music” during Sunday morning worship, yes?! Especially when the scripture for the day is one of the many texts in our Bible where Jesus (and others!) bring dead people back to life. Actually, I guess, they’re almost dead. Despite appearances, Jesus (and others!) often note they’re merely “sleeping.”
There are of course the gospel accounts of Jesus raising Lazarus (John 11) as well as Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5, Matthew 9 and Luke 8) and the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11). In Acts, Peter raises Dorcus (aka “Tabitha” because of course, who really wants to be named “Dorcus,” but that’s for another blog, and in any case, the story is found at Chapter 9). We have in the Old Testament both Elijah raising a poor widow’s son (1 Kings 17), Elisha raising a Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4) and a dead man coming to life when plopped into a grave containing Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13).
Imagine setting "I'm Not Dead Yet" in the midst of any of these scripture stories. Our Divinely-healed subject springs up, clad in some type of typical “biblical burlap” toggery, and he/she proceeds to weakly but boldly belt out “I am not dead yet, I can dance and I can sing!" while both faithful and skeptical onlookers (as well as any nearby revitalized corpses) happily join in with some zesty tap dancing and “trenches.”
Who wouldn’t want to give generously as the plate is passed after witnessing the choir/drama team present THIS?!?!
Seriously (and pun is only sort-of intended), this crazy song has helped me finally understand these confusing and controversial miracle stories where people come back from the dead. I’ve always wondered about their purpose. Jesus died and rose again, but completely transformed, and ultimately for life in the Eternal realm. The people in these particular miracle stories come back to life in the same body and for life on the same plane as before.
While some may say these stories mean to tell us God has the power to bring dead people back to life (which of course is possible), I think their greater meaning – the truly good, delightfully good news – is that no matter how dead inside we may feel, how “over” everything seems to be, how easy it may sometimes be to assume we’re out of second chances physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally….
.... Unless the proverbial fat lady is singing, a Divine impulse is getting ready to shoot through us enabling us to! To jump up and sing and LIVE! Resume LIVING! Celebrate the opportunity to move on in the giddiest, goofiest, most joyful way possible! Do some of these!
I know it may sound totally strange, maybe even perverse, but this song – and the image of a happy dancing almost-corpse – has helped me in more ways than I can say as I deal with the grief of my brother’s sudden tragic death six weeks ago. And as I sit with others in their deep grief, too.
It’s very easy and tempting in times like this to be submerged in sadness and thoughts about the very real ending of things. Watching your elderly, fragile dad cry like a baby over and over again, putting your hand on the small box that now contains your brother’s ashes, realizing all you never will do or see or discover about or with your dearly departed – it can cause even you to forget to breathe. And wonder when the time will come when you’ll once again really want to.
But I found thinking of that song, singing it to myself and all the rest, instantly snapped me out of my funk. So did thinking of these "not dead yet!" miracle stories through the Comic Lens. It didn’t take away the gravity of what is now forever gone and the “new normal” death brings to survivors. But it did provide even more than a spark of spunk and desire to jump up and make the most out of the opportunities to live and love in this moment and look ahead with hope and creative anticipation as to what is next.
After all, like Lazarus and Jairus' daughter and Fred, I am not yet dead! I will be someday, but in the meantime, believe it or not, I’ve been given this chance that my brother no longer has. Makes me want to make the most out of it, and the Spirit is prompting me to do so with a skip in my step, no matter where the road – and the Spirit - may be taking me.
In the Spamalot song, things conclude as the once-dead happily march off to war. In true Monty Python black humor fashion, that’s of course what one does when given a new lease on life.
I think Jesus would be (is?) laughing at (with?) this crazy song, loving it and saying, “Of course, if you let Me, I can inspire troops on both sides to square dance with one another in no time!’ (Or, more to the point, "With your help, soon....")