John Updike on the Resurrection

In case you missed it, Tickletext, in his comment on Grunewald’s Easter painting, posted this poem by John Updike, who is one of our most distinguished and critically acclaimed contemporary authors and a Christian (brought up Lutheran, now an Episcopalian), and yet hardly any Christians read him because his novels have so much sex in them! But treasure this:

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-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 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.

John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bruce

    His idea of a “real angel” holds until the angel’s garb must be “spun on a definite loom”. Now he’s crossed over into naturalism.

    But I like his sentiments.

  • Bruce

    His idea of a “real angel” holds until the angel’s garb must be “spun on a definite loom”. Now he’s crossed over into naturalism.

    But I like his sentiments.

  • Bror Erickson

    I checked a book of his out of the library a year or so ago before going on vacation. There definately was a lot of sex in the book, but I also marveled at how theologically astute he is! I can’t even remember the name of the book, but he knew his theology, and I might have to check it out and read it again. I’m now wondering if there wasn’t more to the story than I thought.
    In any case I love this poem. I love how he can use words like amino acids poetically.
    Bruce, I don’t know what to make of “a definate loom.” I know so little about heaven, I’m not sure where the angels get their clothes. I’m fairly sure it’s not Wal-mart. But if this poem is Naturalism, I’ll take it.

  • Bror Erickson

    I checked a book of his out of the library a year or so ago before going on vacation. There definately was a lot of sex in the book, but I also marveled at how theologically astute he is! I can’t even remember the name of the book, but he knew his theology, and I might have to check it out and read it again. I’m now wondering if there wasn’t more to the story than I thought.
    In any case I love this poem. I love how he can use words like amino acids poetically.
    Bruce, I don’t know what to make of “a definate loom.” I know so little about heaven, I’m not sure where the angels get their clothes. I’m fairly sure it’s not Wal-mart. But if this poem is Naturalism, I’ll take it.

  • http://bluegrasslutheran.blogspot.com Christopher Jackson

    This is great!

    Sadly, some people are rebellious:
    http://tinyurl.com/3a6273

  • http://bluegrasslutheran.blogspot.com Christopher Jackson

    This is great!

    Sadly, some people are rebellious:
    http://tinyurl.com/3a6273

  • Bror Erickson

    Christopher,
    Mister Tode, is a depressing man. But what do you expect from a German Lawyer who can’t pronounce and umlauted o, and therefore can’t pronounce his own name.

  • Bror Erickson

    Christopher,
    Mister Tode, is a depressing man. But what do you expect from a German Lawyer who can’t pronounce and umlauted o, and therefore can’t pronounce his own name.

  • Bror Erickson

    It was also very depressing to seee Calvary Chapel of Salt Lake advertising on his blog, as well as som Catholic organization.
    maye there isn’t as much theological unity, an Don S’s denomination as I thought. I always figured the one thing a Calvary Chapel would get right is the resurection.

  • Bror Erickson

    It was also very depressing to seee Calvary Chapel of Salt Lake advertising on his blog, as well as som Catholic organization.
    maye there isn’t as much theological unity, an Don S’s denomination as I thought. I always figured the one thing a Calvary Chapel would get right is the resurection.

  • JonSLC

    I was reminded a few weeks ago of part of Updike’s “A Month of Sundays” — part which relates to the resurrection. (The reminder came via an issue of Will Willimon’s Pulpit Resource, vol. 30, no. 1, as he quotes from Tom Long’s “Whispering the Lyrics”.)

    In Updike’s book, the main character, Thomas, is playing poker with a group of men. Thomas is dealt an almost perfect hand, so he bets heavily. But another man, a stutterer named Fred, keeps calling Thomas’ bets. Thomas is incredulous, since Fred’s cards that are showing have, at best, only a remote chance of amounting to anything. But when all the bets are down and the cards revealed, it’s Fred who wins. It turns out that only one card in the deck could have beaten Thomas, and Fred had that card. Thomas thinks, “Two truths dawned upon me: He was crazy. He had won. He had raised not on a reasonable faith but on a virtual impossibility; and he had been right.”

    The hand that Christians hold looks absurdly weak. There is only one card — Christ’s actual resurrection — that will win it. The Spirit leads us to go “all in” on that one card.

    Thanks be to God.

  • JonSLC

    I was reminded a few weeks ago of part of Updike’s “A Month of Sundays” — part which relates to the resurrection. (The reminder came via an issue of Will Willimon’s Pulpit Resource, vol. 30, no. 1, as he quotes from Tom Long’s “Whispering the Lyrics”.)

    In Updike’s book, the main character, Thomas, is playing poker with a group of men. Thomas is dealt an almost perfect hand, so he bets heavily. But another man, a stutterer named Fred, keeps calling Thomas’ bets. Thomas is incredulous, since Fred’s cards that are showing have, at best, only a remote chance of amounting to anything. But when all the bets are down and the cards revealed, it’s Fred who wins. It turns out that only one card in the deck could have beaten Thomas, and Fred had that card. Thomas thinks, “Two truths dawned upon me: He was crazy. He had won. He had raised not on a reasonable faith but on a virtual impossibility; and he had been right.”

    The hand that Christians hold looks absurdly weak. There is only one card — Christ’s actual resurrection — that will win it. The Spirit leads us to go “all in” on that one card.

    Thanks be to God.

  • fwsonnek

    #1 Bruce

    c’mon brother! poetry. like the part of away in a manger where it says “no crying he makes” simply to mark Him as a special baby, even when the phrase at the same time sorta undoes the whole idea of the incarnation and Jesus being true man. I feel fairly certain that the baby jesus cried, and that the young man jesus could be forgetful, along with all the other limitations of being truly human.

    We often overlay our own categories. Not necessary. An example of this is that in the creation account God said that everything was “very good.” We read into that “perfect.” And even in a very good world there was still at least one thing, and maybe more, that was still not good even so….. not sure it is wise to declare the category of “naturalism” here…

    Poetic license is ok. Categories and systematics don’t really work well with the psalms for example. especially the cursing psalms. ;)

  • fwsonnek

    #1 Bruce

    c’mon brother! poetry. like the part of away in a manger where it says “no crying he makes” simply to mark Him as a special baby, even when the phrase at the same time sorta undoes the whole idea of the incarnation and Jesus being true man. I feel fairly certain that the baby jesus cried, and that the young man jesus could be forgetful, along with all the other limitations of being truly human.

    We often overlay our own categories. Not necessary. An example of this is that in the creation account God said that everything was “very good.” We read into that “perfect.” And even in a very good world there was still at least one thing, and maybe more, that was still not good even so….. not sure it is wise to declare the category of “naturalism” here…

    Poetic license is ok. Categories and systematics don’t really work well with the psalms for example. especially the cursing psalms. ;)

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    I see this poem as a direct counterblast to the “Church of Christ Without Christ” mentality of people like this: http://urltea.com/30z4

    Incidentally, contrary to what Dr. Veith has assumed, I am in fact a man, not a woman!

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    I see this poem as a direct counterblast to the “Church of Christ Without Christ” mentality of people like this: http://urltea.com/30z4

    Incidentally, contrary to what Dr. Veith has assumed, I am in fact a man, not a woman!

  • Anon

    It is definitely not Naturalistic, but rather, anti-gnostic, anti-neo-platonic.

  • Anon

    It is definitely not Naturalistic, but rather, anti-gnostic, anti-neo-platonic.

  • CRB

    Although this does not apply directly to the topic posted, I think it bears a reference for anyone who may be in doubt and also for all you E.R. lovers!
    HT: Paul McCain
    http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/2008/03/the-poverty-of.html

  • CRB

    Although this does not apply directly to the topic posted, I think it bears a reference for anyone who may be in doubt and also for all you E.R. lovers!
    HT: Paul McCain
    http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/2008/03/the-poverty-of.html

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Sorry, tickletext! I’ll change the gendered pronoun.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Sorry, tickletext! I’ll change the gendered pronoun.


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