Wednesday, January 28, 2009

tribute to a Giant

I am sure all the quick draws got there first and have already put this on their blogs, but I want to share, as way of tribute to the late great John Updike (who dies yesterday), this poem. Every Easter I read it. When preaching on Easter, it is central to my sermons. 

I discovered it many years ago and found it useful in Boston where the central belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus is not integral to Christian belief. It is among my favorite poems ever...
Seven Stanzas at 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.

[Written for a religious arts festival sponsored by the Clifton Lutheran Church, of Marblehead, Mass.]

I love that this was written for a church in the area we used to minister. 

I discovered Updike accidentally. As a high school student I stumbled upon Bech is Back (one of my parents may have picked it up at a yard sale or used bookstore) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I read other novels across the years. While I was drawn to his contemporaries Vonnegut and John Irving (especially- discovering him accidentally also), I will be eternally grateful to this wonderfully inauspicious Christian writer that did not wear his faith on his sleeve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aside from being a solipsist (who celebrated it), radical notions of individualism, viz. sexual promiscuity, and besides his increasing irrelevance throughout his writing career, I was quite fond of the books I read (the earlier stuff, mostly). He crafted beautiful sentences. He wrote a lot of books. Most people I know, in their twenties, don't care for him. First wave boomers seem to love him, second wavers (aka Joneses) begin to fade in their appreciation the younger they are. The posthumous poem in NYT is telling:

January 29, 2009

It came to me the other day:

Were I to die, no one would say,

“Oh, what a shame! So young, so full

Of promise — depths unplumbable!”

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes

Will greet my overdue demise;

The wide response will be, I know,

“I thought he died a while ago.”

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,

And death is real, and dark, and huge.

The shock of it will register

Nowhere but where it will occur.


This poem is taken from John Updike’s forthcoming collection, “Endpoint and Other Poems.”