Saturday, April 11, 2009

Interpretations of the Mystery AND Physicality of Easter: Updike and Holbein

My good friend Bill Rice is visiting this weekend for Easter break. His girlfriend, Anna, sent him the following Easter poem by John Updike. We were stunned. Amazed. Came close to tears on the reading of it. Updike is a man very concerned with the physical world--we can see this in his fiction which is often both sacred and profane. In this poem, he reminds us of the real life physicality that is also part of the Mystery of Easter. After reading this, Bill said that the poem reminded him of Hans Holbein the Younger's painting The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb. I don't know what to really say about the terrifying beauty of this poem and this painting. But great comfort and beauty is mixed in with the ugliness, terror, pain.

by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule 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 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.


Becki said...

Beautiful. Ugly. Real, Mary. Thank you for sharing! (And say hi to Bill for me!). Just before I read your post, I read another friend's post of this Tom Wright article:

Hope the link works.

Courtney Veerman said...

Mary, this literally took my breath away and caused my heart rate to increase.

Love to you my old friend.