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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Number 317: John Updike: Seven Stanzas At Easter

Seven Stanzas At Easter

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule 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-mache,
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 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.

- John Updike

Hap Notes: It's Easter and Christians believe that something amazing happened today: a man rose from the dead. If we don't believe that Jesus was a man, it's no big trick to rise from the dead. One supposes that God can do anything if he/she is a God worth the worship so rising from the dead is pretty much just a parlor trick. The fact that Jesus was a flesh and blood man that rose from the dead is astounding. It's supposed to be. Glossing over it does God a great disservice.

I would never presume to proselytize for Christianity. I am unqualified to do so since my personal beliefs are a vertiginous mix of Hindu-Buddhist-Christian-Pagan. But, Updike is saying something wildly important about Christianity and the church that often gets smoothed down and varnished. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is what sets Christianity apart: their God is alive. Jesus lives.

Updike is forcing us to look at this resurrection as a real event and describes it as such. There is no blond Northern European in this tale. You wanna know what they looked like? They probably looked a great deal like the people we are fighting in the Middle East. Updike's angel is clad in real linen spun on a loom, the principles of physics hold tight, Jesus has real flesh. The miracle is not merely a metaphor but a real event at a stinky tomb on hot day in the desert.

Whatever you or I feel about religion, think on this: the violence, distrust, iron rules, male-domination, rape and sexism of the so-called "Old Testament" is dead the day that Jesus rises from the dead. It's gone and replaced by a new covenant. Jesus says that the two most important things one can do in life are to love God and to love one's neighbor. Respect all people, care for them, and love God. Christianity is not an exclusive club- anyone can join.

And anybody who says any different has not read their bible. Christians who dwell on the "Old Testament" are both bad Christians and bad Jews- they are cherry-picking the bible to support vindictiveness, prejudice and war. By the by, there is a term circulating in the media that is an oxymoron: "Old Testament Christian." It would be funny if it weren't so blatantly ignorant. One must try to forgive these people for their silliness, they are obviously scared of love and peace for some reason.

So on this Easter day, it's good to celebrate the life of the new church, the church Jesus hoped would be one of forgiveness, tolerance and love for all people. Doesn't it strike you with awe and reverence that we are all evolved from the same initial life on earth? That we are all cut from the same cloth?

How many ways do we have to hear this story until we believe it?

Here is where we have talked about Updike before:
( This link will lead you to the other Updike poems we've discussed)