Sunday, February 17 2019
As I was collating the collection of poems I am going to use with the Saint John's Spirituality Group on February 23, I had an “Aha” moment. Immediately to the computer to download John Updike's Seven Stanzas at Easter. Below are the first and last stanzas of the poem.
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.
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.
Okay, Fr. John, you had a sudden epiphany. So what? Why is this so important?
1 Corinthians 15 is one of the crucial chapters in all of Saint Paul's corpus. In this chapter, he sets out the gospel as it was preached in the early church from the beginning. Evidently, the Corinth of the first century was very much like the culture today in the West. Indeed, in the Revised Common Lectionary (from which we take the readings for each Sunday), the Church has seen fit to omit some verses from this crucial chapter, even when the Season of Epiphany is not shortened because of an early date for Easter.
But Paul will have none of such editorial license; nor will John Updike; nor Fr. John: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” and Paul's full explication of this central moment in Christian belief must not be truncated. Now John Updike's poem is not the gospel; he carries no such authority. And Fr. John certainly is not. Yet the great poets and writers, composers and lyricists, artists and architects often serve the gospel through what they create, even if unknowingly, even if sometimes unwittingly. Updike commences his piece with a contingency: “Make no mistake if....” However, the contingent opening is clarified immediately. The church hasn't fallen; it still stands; the event of the bodily resurrection, rooted in history, is anchored in fact: “it was as his body.” A new day has dawned in human history: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”
With all blessings, Fr. John+