For someone learning about the Bible for the first time, one of the key elements to the story of Jesus returning—the dead rising from their graves—is bound to leave an impression. My only frame of reference for this phenomenon comes from popular culture: zombies.
We are obsessed with dead people who reanimate, usually in mass. Movies, books, and television shows—we are hungry for stories about “the Zombie Apocalypse.” Is this another example of a Christian idea so thoroughly integrated into our collective imagination that we hardly remember where it came from? Obviously, we have embellished upon the theme for entertainment. The zombies are coming for us with their arms outstretched. They make strange guttural noises and eat human brains. I don’t think that comes from the Bible.
Some denominations seem to focus on Jesus coming back, but don’t worry too much beyond this event. Others, like the Jehovah Witnesses, have invested more energy into planning for the aftermath of Christ’s return. Hence, the subject of the dead coming back to life gains importance.
Even though representatives from my local Kingdom Hall have visited my house at least a dozen times, I was hesitant to go to theirs. I called earlier in the week to make sure it was okay for me to attend Sunday services. They aren’t listed in my newspaper’s Worship Directory. It goes along with their distrust of all things civic: they don’t vote, hold office, salute the flag, serve in the military, or volunteer their information to the newspaper authorities. It’s part of their commitment to avoid the world where evil lurks. Theirs is a safer parallel world that intersects with the dangerous world at countless doorsteps.
Turns out there’s one civic instrument they are powerless to avoid: the phone book.
On the phone, I talk to a woman named Sadu and she says I am welcome on Sunday. She speaks with a strong accent that I imagine comes from some place in India or maybe Africa. I picture her as exotic and statuesque, like one of the dark women from the Watchtower illustrations who dons a colorful headscarf and flowing robe. Sadu tells me to look for her when I visit.
What if these are real-life zombies? This thought flashes to mind as I’m standing at the entrance to the Kingdom Hall with people milling around. I’ve been thinking too much about corpses springing back to life. It’s as if their happy expressions and business casual attire carry the whiff of inauthenticity—like they’re trying too hard to seem alive. The atmosphere in the building can only be described as funereal: fake plants, floral carpet, mauve wainscoting. No windows; the only light emanates from florescent tubes. Décor best appreciated by the dead. I keep expecting someone to turn and have an eyeball dangling from a socket, an image that momentarily scares the bejesus out of me.
A man in a suit smiles broadly. He has big white teeth and sandy blond hair shellacked into place. If he is a zombie, he has cleaned up nicely. “I’m looking for Sadu,” I tell him.
He frowns and turns to a woman, “Have you seen Sadu?” She turns to second woman. The second asks a third. Sadu? Sadu? On down the line. A young woman approaches, “Sadu isn’t here today.” She is apologetic. “You can sit with me if you’d like.”
She is white and short and ordinary, but her eyeballs are intact. I accept her invitation.