Friday, April 16, 2010


It may be that I am a contrarian by nature. At Easter time, I have noticed more and more spiritualizing of the Resurrection, with preachers and writers noting that "merely" giving the reasonable historical account of the resurrection doesn't matter to people anymore. In the New York Times, an important journalist writing on Easter Sunday and building off the work of an Oxford don, danced around the notion of whether the Resurrection was historical or metaphorical.

But the fact remains, whether by preacher, journalist or professor, the resurrection is drifting to meaning over fact. The post modern punter demands this, and the consumer is king. I had a teenager say to me, "well if Jesus did rise from the dead, so what?". He meant, what does it mean for me.

In part, I want to confront the me centered universe with what is asked for, and the Bible does so: the Resurrection preaching and teaching in the New Testament is that Jesus rose according to God's plan, for the forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed to the world. Easter not only confirms the Cross of Good Friday as accepted by God, but also marks Jesus out as God's appointed judge of the world.

But still, the response in a narcissistic era comes: "Yes, that's all very nice about Jesus, but please start talking about me again."

And so my contrarian tendency is to take the emphasis of the Gospels on the Resurrection, which is to say it happened. And then to line up with Paul who said it happened, and if it didn't, then Christianity and indeed life is pretty useless.

So I was a joyful preacher beginning my sermon on Easter with this paragraph:
Jesus Christ is Risen. He is Risen and is physically alive today in his resurrected body. Having defeated death, he cannot die. If we are Christians, or as the Bible says, if we are in Christ, we share his resurrection life today, tomorrow and for eternity.

In response to that, and also to teaching 1 Corinthians 15 in our Wall Street Ministry this Eastertide, two guys sent me this poem by John Updike (thanks, Sam and Greg). I don't know if Updike has a precise insight into the nature of a resurrected body, but he sure gets the physicality and historicity of the resurrection right!

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.

—John Updike, “Seven Stanzas At Easter,” 1964