The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'Let us not mock God with metaphor'

'Miracle' isn't a big enough category to understand Christ's resurrection

Leave it to John Updike to teach us something true about flesh — and the limits of his craft. In Seven Stanzas at Easter, he nearly leaves writing altogether to mount the pulpit and declare Jesus Christ's victory over death.

He need only lose a conditional here and there ("if he rose at all"), make a subjunctive or two indicative and he'd have a sermon that delivers Christ's resurrection to the ones who need it most — the dead.

The only shame here lies not with limited poets but with timid preachers who, by commission or omission, preach against the Resurrection. So it's left to a poet to end our farce: "Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy ... making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages ...."

An old German saying goes: "[A thing] happened so long ago it isn't even true any more." Apparently that's how we regard the Resurrection. We call it a "symbol" that stands for another truth or a story with a moral. Sometimes we say we don't know what happened on the third day, but it certainly inspired certain Jews — what Updike calls "sidestepping, transcendence."

But sharing such a spirit is not the Holy Spirit. That was Updike's fear — a spirit abstracted from the flesh makes spirit a mere idea.

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Embracing diversity