How Should Christians Talk About the Resurrection? John Updike’s Answer
His poem ‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’ makes the case against turning the event into a parable
As a young writer, John Updike submitted “Seven Stanzas at Easter” to a religious arts festival at his church, Clifton Lutheran on Boston’s North Shore. He won the “Best in Show” award for the poem — a year after his first novel appeared — and returned his $100 prize to the congregation.
Sixty-two years later, “Seven Stanzas at Easter” has become perhaps the most famous Easter poem of the second half of the 20th century.
In some ways, its popularity is surprising. The modified-envelope rhymes of the poem are subtle enough that you might miss them. The seven stanzas might invoke any of many Christian associations with the number seven — the days of Holy Week, the gifts of the spirit, the sayings of Christ on the cross — but it isn’t clear which. And all of the 35 lines in the poem deal with a question that can make Christians squeamish: How should we talk about the Resurrection?
Updike speaks directly to the reader from the first stanza onward:
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.
The poem goes on to reject the idea of talking about the Resurrection in literary tropes that mask or deny the corporal realities of the Crucifixion:
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
making of the event a parable …
“Seven Stanzas at Easter” is about the body of Christ in more than one sense, and its theme appears unambiguous: In for a dime, in for a dollar; if you talk about the Resurrection, you can’t turn it into a Jungian projection of a collective unconscious.