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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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March 10, 2006

The Lutheran Updike

Knowing I’m always intrigued by John Updike’s work, my colleague Amber Leberman sent off a link to The New Yorker which offers a new story, “My Father’s Tears.” You might want to read it, too. I’m interested in Updike as writer, especially as a writer whose world view reflects his Lutheran roots. This piece includes a brief remembrance of “the Christian religion as I had met it in its Lutheran form—the whole implausible, colorful, comforting tapestry....” he learned as a boy growing up in Alton, Penn. You can check out the story to learn more about that.

But it stirred my own memories of the poem the older, but still young, Updike wrote called “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” He was a recent Harvard graduate, worshiping at Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead, Mass. when he wrote it in 1960. I encountered it near the end of that decade, as a Northwestern undergraduate, when it was printed on the Sunday bulletin of University Lutheran Church. By then he had realized something decidedly less “comforting” in his faith, and in the first line of the concluding stanza warns other Christians about Christ’s death, “Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,..”

And five years ago, when The Lutheran featured an article about the Resurrection based on the poem, I had the chance to talk with Norman D. Kretzmann, Updike’s pastor when the poem was written. By then long retired, he told me that over the years parishioners in various churches he served had grown to expect his quoting the poem in his Easter sermons. Fortunate for them.

It bears reading and re-reading.

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