Less than three short months ago we celebrated the birth of Christ. There is no way to tell this story without the physical reality of a mother giving birth to the body of a vulnerable, dependent human being. Incarnation, or becoming flesh, is the point of how God enters into the world and our lives.
Now, in the way the church year unfolds, Jesus is full grown at some 33 years old. And his body is still at the center of the story. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, shares a meal with his friends, washes their feet with his hands, kneels in a garden, is nailed to a cross and placed in a tomb. His body, and each of ours, matter enormously--now and somehow in the life to come.
The gospel writers went to some lengths to affirm both the mystery of the resurrection and the physicality of it. The risen Christ could be seen and heard, touched and talked to--in a room, on a road, along the shore. They wanted to make sure Jesus resurrection wasn't just a good idea.
It is precisely the bodily-ness of John Updike's poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” that I love. If you’re going to believe, Updike seems to say, then believe. Stop trying to soften the edges of Christian faith or make it more acceptable. And I think he’s right – “modernize” the resurrection – by making it a metaphor or parable or the disciples’ dream or psychological experience – and you lose something essential not just of the story but of the very promise of God to remake everything as real and tangible and alive as God made it in the first place.
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 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.
I am convinced that there is another dimension to our existence, another way of seeing, another consciousness, and it is not simply beyond death but here and now. As the French poet Paul Eluard put it, “There is another world, and it is in this one.”
Blessed Holy Week and Easter, Ross