Seven Stanzas and a Stone at Easter

There are some who say that today, Easter, is a celebration of an excess of imagination. John Updike, never short on imagination himself, says no: the Easter reports were about what happened.

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.

(Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike)

It happened this way, or “the Church will fall.” The apostle Paul said the same in 1 Corinthians 15.

Easter is not an act of human invention, it is the world in full color. Updike is correct to insist that the surface event was never “transcendent” in the sense of unreal; yet there is at the same time a transcendence there that cannot be sidestepped, precisely because the event was real.

To follow Christ requires imagination, yes: not fairy-story imagination, but openness to reality beyond what we see on the surface.

Such openness is, sadly, not always evident. The other day I saw where an atheist blogger (who need not be named) had found “contradictions” in the resurrection accounts, including,

  • What were the last words of Jesus? Three gospels give three different versions.
  • Could Jesus’s followers touch him? John says no; the other gospels say yes.

Actually John tells us Jesus told Thomas to touch him, but not to cling to him. There’s a more consequential error on display here, though: a black-white requirement that the accounts be exactly the same or else be contradictory. Real people reporting real events tell stories differently even when telling them truly.

To live this way is to be stuck in a sad sort of stone literalism. Atheism in general implies a cold, hard world of stone. Nothing counts in the God-denier’s world but what’s on the surface, reality defined according to a cautiously contained and convenient beauty, the light weightiness of Max Planck’s quanta with the real life embarrassed out of it.

There is a stone in the story of Christ, too: it ‘s been rolled away.

Comments 5
  1. Tim Stone

    If Atheists took all their time complaining about what other people think and what other people believe and put that into action and help other people, maybe the entire world could benefit.

    Sitting down and using your tablet or laptop isn’t going to help anyone, it’s just going to make you work harder to lose weight.

  2. Chuck Edwards

    Well said John Updike and Tom Gilson. To recall is to recreate, refresh and rekindle the truth, beauty, and goodness of that story once told by the four evangels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John… the story above all stories.

  3. Tim Stone

    Ray, Not really. You don’t see that many Christians just attacking people for no reason unless they are provoked.

    I see a lot of hate and intolerance for Christianity and not really the other way around for Atheists. Yes, there are some Atheists that get attacked but this isn’t the 1950’s anymore and most of it is deserved.

    Case in point, the entire Creating an Atheist handbook. I don’t see that many people writing or spending time about how to silence Atheists.

    Atheists can believe in whatever they want as long as they keep it to themselves. Christians talk to other people about God and Christ not because they want to improve numbers, but because it’s a life and death situation.

    If someone you knew was going to die or get hurt, wouldn’t you do whatever you could to help them?

    Atheists either want to attack Christianity and promote Atheism for two main reasons. 1) So they can improve their numbers and then 2) because they view Christianity / Religion as harmful to society and so they are so desperate to get rid of it because they think it’s a cancer.

  4. Ray Ingles

    Tim Stone –

    I see a lot of hate and intolerance for Christianity and not really the other way around for Atheists. Yes, there are some Atheists that get attacked but this isn’t the 1950′s anymore and most of it is deserved.

    And then:

    Atheists can believe in whatever they want as long as they keep it to themselves.

    You don’t see anything even a little contradictory about that?

    If atheists dare to, y’know, try to reach out to other atheists then they get violent threats. This is, um, not atypical, unfortunately.

    No, not all Christians do this. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much for an atheist to get rape and death threats.

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