Spun on a definite loom
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Peter spoke to the people gathered to hear him, “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised up on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
We weren’t there. And we don’t belong to the generations of boys and girls who heard the stories from their parents, who heard the stories from their parents, and so on back to the witnesses. For many of us, it is hard to believe in someone else’s words about something as remarkable as physical resurrection. We are “rational.” We are “logical.” We are “enlightened.” We have “evolved.”
John Updike’s poem draws a line in the sand. I imagine Mr. Updike writing this poem on an Easter morning in 1960, knowing that even in the church he’ll be attending the resurrection is small, merely symbolic, represented in nature – everything but literally true. Updike was raised a Lutheran, and the faith of his childhood grew up with him. But often, as for us all, Updike’s faith was surely threatened by life’s puzzles, his own thoughts, and the ideas of others.
He digs, and finds foundation as he writes “Seven Stanzas on Easter”:
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.
This Easter sunrise is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! This Easter noon is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! This Easter evening is the day the Lord has made! Let us be exceedingly glad!