Sorting by

Skip to main content

Mocking with Metaphor

By March 23, 2016 2 Comments

Last Friday night as I was driving along, someone decided that he needed to slam into my car and then speed away. Totally senseless. Not even a good story. There wasn’t ice or snow. It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. It wasn’t a badly lit street. He drove away, and I was left with a totaled vehicle.  No reason.

Of course, that’s senselessness on a very minor scale. Awakening yesterday morning to another bombing in yet another city just reiterated the senseless all around. How long, oh Lord, indeed.

During Lent, I’ve used this space for a prayer and a poem–and another poem seems in order to finish Lent. For me, what combats the senseless is trying to understand what is real, what is solid, what is dependable. Not much is. But I’ve always loved John Updike’s poem for its absolute insistence on the reality of the Christ’s work at Easter, for its echo of the Creed’s assertion that the “resurrection of the body” is a non-negotiable. Whatever else happens, for good or for ill, nothing really matters if Easter didn’t. Really.

Seven Stanzas at Easter
by John Updike

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.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    This poem makes up for all the other frustrations of Updike. This poem encouraged my wife and me already many years ago in seminary, and gave us confidence in the real story. I’m happy it gives you hope when it’s a real car you’re dealing with, not a metaphorical one.

  • Amen and amen. I’ve lost count of the number of references to the poem from a pastor of ours from long ago.

Leave a Reply