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 thing painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier mache,
not 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 make it less monstrous,
for in 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’, in Telephone Poles and Other Poems (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 72–3.


  1. Hey Jason, I’ve just dropped a comment at Inhabitatio Dei – Halden also quotes the poem – that I used it in worship this morning (along with a few others I mentioned). It’s an Updike day (“up”, and “dike” – as in the Greek?).

    Hope you’ve had an allelulia of an Easter!


  2. — This poem by Updike is one of the few things that have made sense to me this Easter; its argument regarding the gospel text of Christ critically bridges and resonates with both our contemporary Western mindset and, moreover, the once ancient Eastern embodied mindset. I now have a little more energy to reimagine the crux of said resurrection, seeing, no, feeling it to be more than just a recurring spring, but a subtle, molecular reversal of the fall.

    The gospel ought to be an announcement that sin and death, though still having its day here and now, has ultimately lost its grip; skirmishing.

    Though, Jason, would you agree that the minor yet powerful clause of sin and death still having its day, here and now, is all too often ignored and repressed by the contemporary church? Church interpretation likes to leap forward – too forward – with its imagination, thus forgetting the crucial paradox of God’s kingdom that is both here, and not here; Christ the King that is both enthroned, and yet not enthroned; humankind that is both under the rubric of bodies resurrected, and yet bodies dying.

    The postmodern condition has been throwing monkey wrenches into the works of Modernity, rightfully deconstructing its rigid and so-called unquestionable constructs of meaning; but the church gives glib responses, unwilling to feel the depravity of meaning that still has the potential to snowball into something that seems to reject the cross and its victory. It is quite amazing how, when bodies think like John’s, the depravity can shrink into its rightful form; something that does not have any kind of real power over us anymore.


  3. Ah – sentiments which are in every way in opposition to the type of theology which is “a perfectly custardly confection of Jungian-Reichian soma mysticism swimming in a soupy caramel of Tillichic, Jasperian, Bultmannish blather, all served up in a dime-store dish of his gutless generation’s give-away Gemütlichkeit” (to borrow the words of the fictional Rev. Thomas Marshfield, verbose Barthian minister).


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