Monday, July 7, 2008

The Impressive Theologizing of John Updike

Yesterday I was perusing Moe's Book Store, and happened upon a collection of poems by John Updike. The collection included the poem Seven Stanzas at Easter, which Updike submitted for the Religious Arts Festival at his home church. Not surprisingly, his work won him the $100 first place prize. I'm no literary critic, but I think this poem is outstanding. As you read the stanzas, remember that Updike penned them around 1960, when demythologization was all the rage in New Testament studies. For Bultmann and his ilk, the resurrection was not about the literal vivification of Christ's body, but the emergence of the church's faith. Updike is a bold voice, fiercely holding to the literal, bodily resurrection against the tide of scholarly opinion.

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.

In our day, scholars like Crossan and Borg continue to promulgate the erroneous idea that the resurrection is to be interpreted as only a comforting metaphor, or something like that. Let us be resolute in asserting that the literal resurrection of Christ is utterly necessary for the salvation of souls, and the redemption of the world.


David A. Carlson said...

Thanks! What a great poem

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam said...

The liberal interpretation of scripture rather than the literal has caused so much damage to the Christian community. The "search for the historical Jesus" has reduced our Lord to a political figure/revolutionary, a teacher/prophet rather than the Incarnate God. It is foolishness to think the Apostles and faithful would not have suffered martyrdom for a mere metaphorical resurrection. I think the late church historian Jaroslav Pelikan summed it up best,
"If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen -- nothing else matters."

So let us rejoice,
"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"

Anonymous said...

That poem rocks! I heard it first read by Ted Peters, and if you're in Berkeley, you oughta try to see him or hear him speak.

Peters was part of a conference with Marcus Borg and NT Wright debating different interpretations of the resurrection.

Anyway, I wrote more about it on my blog: