A few minutes with Updike’s “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.

— John Updike. Seven Stanzas at Easter. 1960. Accessed at http://www.iserv.net/~stpats/Updike.htm (4/21/2011).

While reading Kent Annan‘s After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken (InterVarsity Press. 2011), I came across selections from John Updike’s Seven Stanzas at Easter.  On Easter, as he wrestles with faith in the face of “scientific modernity’s assault on faith in the resurrection,” Kent appreciates reading Seven Stanzas at Easter:

John Updike

Kent Annan

I can identify with these doubts, but he [Updike] asserts they shouldn’t embarrass us into unbelief. The stanzas of the poem articulate the kind of faith I need in response to Haiti, where so many died (by comparison, a similar-intensity earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 killed only seventy-two people) largely because they had been left behind by poverty by the modern world.

I nod Amen with him, as the physical specificity of faith (of the Savior) must respond to the physical, concrete rubble that I drive by in Haiti, as well as the physically decomposed bodies I see even months later being uncovered and put into plastic bags that are thrown into the back of dump trucks:

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.

Walking “through the door” makes sense as a description of faith, more so to me than the famous definition in Hebrews 11: “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (TNIV). — 95 – 96.

What do you think of John Updike’s Seven Stanzas at Easter and Annan’s meditation upon it? How do you live in and articulate the reality of the resurrection in the midst of higher education?

Note: For those of you interested in learning more about the poem and author, I recommend beginning with On Easter and Updike (David E. Anderson. Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. 4/7/2009).

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • winterlightning@safe-mail.net'
    Abu Daoud commented on April 21, 2011 Reply

    I have loved this poem since I first read it many years ago. As someone who has lived in the Arab world for much of the last decade I especially appreciate this poem. It refutes the tepid ‘resurrection experience’ so common in modernist hermeneutics, but also (though I’m sure Updike didn’t have this in mind) clearly affirms a central fact of history which almost all Muslims deny.

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Micheal Hickerson commented on April 21, 2011 Reply

    I, too, love this poem. Thank you for posting on it, Tom. Interesting bit of InterVarsity connection: IVCF’s HIS magazine (which was our student leadership/campus publication for many decades) published the poem sometime in the mid-1960’s.

  • van-cleave.3@osu.edu'
    Howard VC commented on April 24, 2011 Reply

    My wife and I enjoyed this poem greatly today and we are sending tonight to our adult children.

  • Glenn_Shrom_2000@hotmail.com'
    Glenn Shrom commented on March 11, 2012 Reply

    I never knew that John Updike wrote anything so powerfully full of faith and reason! Could it be that he went shipwreck sometime after 1960, or have I just been getting the wrong impression about him all these years? He is from Shillington, PA, in Berks County, and all the reviews I’ve read of his books have turned me off, but these seven stanzas seem packed with truth and life!

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