Seven Stanzas at Easter
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 paper-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.
- John Updike, from Telephone Poles and Other Poems, reprinted in
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
It is significant to have a poet, one schooled in metaphor and analogy, to remind me of the shocking materiality and literality of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Real wounds, real death, and real and bodily Resurrection.
The tendency of the theologically liberal to spiritualize the events of Holy Week is an old complaint. But even believers in the historicity of this event have a tendency to lessen the horror of it by treating it too lightly or passing over the suffering and death to the bright sunniness of Resurrection. Easter comes too cheap that way.
Updike says it well: Make no mistake. If He rose at all, He rose in the body. If not, "the Church will fall."
(Painting is by Rembrant, "The Deposition, or Descent From the Cross")