The Resurrection of Christ—First Sunday of Lent

Sundays do not count in the enumeration of the forty days of Lent. This is because Sundays are celebrations of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. On the one hand, I certainly throw in my lot with those who desire to go through the process of Lent, a process that does not so hastily try to get past the passion and suffering of Jesus to get to Easter Sunday. I have been in Good Friday services that were so upbeat and so anticipatory of Easter Sunday that the services practically focused more on the resurrection than on the suffering, the passion, the death, and the burial of Jesus Christ. Sometimes this happens through the singing of songs that are more celebratory of the entire gospel story rather than focusing on the death of Christ. At other times, the service has in fact properly focused on the passion and death of Christ; but then the Good Friday atmosphere was ruined at the end by playing a video of a preacher reminding us, “But Sunday’s comin’.” Or the final hymn departed from the whole mood of the service by looking ahead to the resurrection. I can understand the reason for this. And, of course, we cannot “un-know” that Christ rose from the dead. At the same time, I believe the services of “Holy Week” ought to take the faithful through a process, one that truly enters into the somberness of Good Friday, one that recaptures the dreariness, the darkness, the apparent hopelessness of that day, and which carries over into what is sometimes referred to as “Holy Saturday.”  It’s very hard for evangelicals to sustain a lamentation.

On the other hand, the Christian church has rightly decided that as Christians make this Lenten journey, it would not be appropriate to maintain this more reflective, mournful, lamenting attitude on the Sundays during Lent. Sunday is always a celebration of the resurrection. So, while this blog’s Lenten series of posts is focused on Christ’s suffering and death, the Sunday posts will focus on the resurrection. For this first Sunday of Lent, I have decided to post for you one of my favorite poems of the resurrection. It comes from the pen of the late novelist John Updike. There are, unfortunately, some who call themselves Christians, and want us to think of them as Christians, who say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but do not mean it. By the “resurrection of Jesus Christ,” they only mean that Christ lives spiritually in our hearts. His memory and teachings continue in the lives of his followers. But there was no resuscitation of Jesus’ body. There was no revivification of the corpse. There was no bodily resurrection. Jesus did not really, actually, literally, rise from the dead. Updike, in his masterfully-written poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter, recognizes this for what it is—absolute nonsense.

 

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.

 

Updike is right. The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.

Jerry Shepherd
First Sunday of Lent
March 9, 2014

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