The Resurrection is not a metaphor: “Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike”


A few years ago, a friend of mine, a college professor, was driving by a local Lutheran Church and saw in big letters on their sign, THE RESURRECTION IS NOT A METAPHOR!

Those who read this blog know my love for the work of John Updike, one of our best Twentieth Century Christian novelists. His poetry is pretty good, too.  Here’s his take on the wise Lutherans’ signboard.

Seven Stanzas at Easter
by 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 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.
(Photo by David Macy:  Easter, yesterday, North Haven, Maine)

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