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Easter with Updike and some Women

April 3, 2015

Mark 16:1-8

There’s a very well known poem, penned by the famous American novelist, John Updike, in 1960, which I have always liked for its forcefulness and its main point.


Seven Stanzas at Easter


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, 1960.


It’s about the importance of ‘bodily resurrection’. It’s about the

material world and the Christian faith. God takes the time (and space) to be material. That’s what Jesus, the incarnation, is all about – not simply a divine spirit who appears to be human but isn’t really. Jesus eats, drinks, shits, get’s sore feet, washes and so on. And the fact that some people will probably be offended by the language of bodily functions says something about our struggle to actually take bodily material world seriously for our faith.


And when Jesus is raised, this is not a departure from the body. This is not a ghost who lives on. Not a lessening of his material reality… not a kind of thinner lighter Jesus. This is a re-energised, renewed, divinely transformed body, a more potent material reality… That’s what the creed means when it refers to the ‘resurrection of the body’. What we hope for is not to escape from the body but for the material world, the bodiliness of existence to be transformed and lifted up into the life of God… and here we get a bit mysterious… of course … we have no science for this, we cannot put resurrection under a microscope.


So that’s one thing that the resurrection has always been about. But the other thing that John Updike wants to stress is that if you say you are Christian and believe in the resurrection, don’t then turn around and say that it is merely a metaphor for Spring time, for flowers blooming, for the changing seasons, for new life in the Christian community, for something within our own world. To do so is to create for yourself a Christianity without God. The resurrection is God! It is an event that meets the world from beyond.


And I think that is what today’s reading highlights for us… in Mark’s memory its a shocking thing, a fearful thing.


What did the women do after leaving the tomb?


If we read John’s or Luke’s gospel we would have heard them go and tell the other disciples and say ‘I have seen the Lord.’ Did you notice how Mark ended his Gospel. Let me read the last words of Mark’s gospel – this is according to scholars, very probably the original end of Mark’s gospel. The other verses are later additions. Mark concludes:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’


Not the joy of the resurrection, not the happy ending… but the shock of the resurrection.


These are the women. The ones who didn’t betray him. The ones who unlike Peter, didn’t protest at his talk of dying. The ones who stayed and watched at the cross and wept. They didn’t take up their cross with him. But then again they didn’t abandon him either.


They were not the prodigal sons… they were the one’s who stayed at home like the older son… they were faithfully sitting in the pew… all the way to the dead end.


They had accepted the real world… unlike their more idealistic male counterparts, they were grounded in the realities of birth and death and so they went along with Jesus, knowing that his was a lost cause. They knew how the world worked. They were practical people. They had even bought the ointment to seal the finality of it all.


The funny thing is, they hadn’t thought about how to get into a sealed tomb… and then when they get there an unnamed man in the white robes of a martyr points to an empty space… and while they are panicking inside and looking in all corners calmly declares ‘Don’t worry’… “You are looking for Jesus”… (as if he were in the hotel lobby and there were a list of possible people that he was checking off). “He has been raised”…..He’s been what?! What the…!

‘So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.’


Lawrence Moore suggest that its the women’s turn for their Gethsemane. This is when they freak out and abandon Jesus.


They had taken the path of resignation… of despair. Their spirituality had become in a deep sense tragic. It was paradise lost for them. And all they could do was recollect times past.


Suddenly… Jesus was no longer ‘times past’. Jesus was ahead of them going into Galilee. Jesus was present and future. And they couldn’t handle that. They could lose their life for his sake, or at least out of a sense of duty and inevitability. They had walked that path. But now they were overtaken by not just a death-event, but a God-event.


Now the rules of the universe had changed, they realised. When Jesus abandoned his life into the hand of Abba, Abba had taken it seriously. Now they were dealing not just with a past to be grieved, but future to be lived. The story wasn’t over.


The material universe was not just a material universe, not just a random collection of atoms and a very long time fading into

nothingness… the material universe was now ablaze with the glory of a crucified God. Taking up their cross and finding their true life was not just the past, but also the future now.


All they needed was eyes to see it… All they needed was a Spirit to give them the courage to live forward into it.


Thanks be to God.



















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