If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain and your faith is in vain … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

1 Corinthians 15:14,20

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that “Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike was first written for a Lutheran congregation. But that’s not why I am sharing it here. I am sharing it here because it is, to me, a great re-telling of 1 Corinthians 15, and a timely reminder that our faith is entirely based on the historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. If “Christ has not been raised” then we are “of all people most to be pitied.” But if he did, then it changes everything. Absolutely everything. And I have staked my life and my hope on this wonderful belief that his resurrection is real, as real as his life and his death. The gospel is true, all of it. Everything depends on this.

What John Updike invites us to do, in this poem, is to double-down on this belief, and remind ourselves that the resurrection is no metaphor – it is a historical fact on which the Church stands. So let us “walk through the door” of this truth and have our lives changed forever. 

Seven Stanzas at Easter | John Updike

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 sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a 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 seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

4 thoughts on “Seven Stanzas at Easter | John Updike

  1. Reblogged this on the deepening ground and commented:

    After celebrating Christ’s resurrection with my family yesterday in the beautiful Spring weather of Western Pennsylvania (unlike LAST YEAR’S SNOW!), I didn’t bother to go online or check my email. BUT, what a wonderful surprise and continued celebration to read these words from John Updike and Rev. James E. Laurence. Take time to read BOTH!


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