In 1960, renowned American writer John Updike joined 96 others in entering a Christian Arts Festival at Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead, Mass. Updike was a then a student at Harvard drawn to the church because it nurtured the roots of his faith. His poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” won $100 for “Best of Show.” I can’t print the whole poem here. Google it if you’d like to see all seven stanzas. Here are the first two:
“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
It was as His flesh; ours.”
The beauty of Updike’s poem is its emphasis on the physical nature of Jesus’ Resurrection. In a culture that, like the old gnostic heresy, seems to spiritualize everything, Jesus’ Resurrection remains a physical, corporeal, anatomical, proteins-and-amino-acids event. “It was as His flesh.”
As Updike writes later in the fourth stanza, the Resurrection is no mere metaphor for spring, or a better day, or a new beginning or a more optimistic attitude. It is rather the one and only hope we have of experiencing physical life after death — our bodies reknit and put together by the power of God — as we place our trust in Christ. When He comes again, our bodies will be raised “to be like his glorious body.” (Phil 3:21).
Without this truth, “the church will fail.” As St. Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Without the Resurrection we have a dead founder of a religion. With it we have the story that trumps all stories, a powerful and even dangerous story that even a post-Christian culture will lean forward to hear.
That’s why the physical Resurrection was proclaimed consistently in the preaching of the early church. It’s why at funerals we must not ignore the Resurrection, speaking as if the person is already, soul and body, in heaven. Soul, yes! Our bodies, though, wait for Him to come on the clouds. We get them back (whether you like the present state of your body or not), only then glorified!
I’ve always loved the story of the little girl who watched a film on the life of Jesus she had seen before. She cried as He was beaten and crucified. She was silent as they took Him down from the cross and placed Him behind the great stone. Then, knowing what was coming, she suddenly grinned and shouted, “Now comes the best part!”
She was right. So the whole church grins and shouts, “Now comes the best part! Christ is risen!”