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If he rose

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body.
If the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the
amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of
enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a thing painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier mache,
not stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will
eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the
dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not make it less monstrous,
for in our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

– John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” in Telephone Poles and Other Poems (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 72–3.

8 Comments

  1. Brian LePort wrote:

    That’s an awesome poem, thanks for sharing.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  2. kim fabricius wrote:

    How ’bout that – I used it this morning in worship – along with:
    “The Song” by George Herbert
    “Suddenly” by R.S. Thomas
    “The Resurrection by Elizabeth Jennings
    “Open” by Luci Shawe, and
    “Emmaus” by Rowan Williams (at Communion)

    Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  3. kim fabricius wrote:

    That’s Luci Shaw.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  4. joel mason wrote:

    beautiful. after i stumbled across ‘seven stanzas’, part of the joy of being there when other people hear it for the first time is the look of surprise or the question, “that’s Updike?”

    Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  5. Matt A. wrote:

    great poem. quoted awkwardly in a easter sermon I went to this morning.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  6. Colin wrote:

    I can imagine the potential evangelical abuse of this poem… until the whole bit about monstrosity kicks in.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink
  7. george wrote:

    i like the question behind the question. i love poetry too. i am doing some work on theopoetics at the moment, and did some work on the death and resurrection as a metaphor. and how as a metaphor the crux of the story is still that the stone was rolled away. and how in that phrase there are worlds of commentary on oppression and how oppression leads to resurrection when combated against. brilliant stuff…would love to connect?!

    Monday, April 5, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  8. kim fabricius wrote:

    There is, however, what strikes me as a very un-Updikean, coy omission in v. 3: nothing about our Lord’s penis.
    (In Roger’s Version, the eponymous Professor of Divinity approvingly cites Tertullian – Natura veneranda est, non erubescenda (“There’s nothing to blush for in Nature; Nature should be revered”) – who says “that he must risk offending modesty in his desire to speak the truth.”

    Monday, April 5, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

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