Resurrection Day: A Poem

If he rose

If he rose
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 thing painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier mache,
not 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 make it less monstrous,
for in 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, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” in Telephone Poles and Other Poems (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 72–3. (HT Halden Doerge)

7 Responses to “Resurrection Day: A Poem”

  1. Dm says:

    Thank you for this MJG..

    This critical engagement of the gospel by John Updike pays mind to both contemporary and ancient mindsets, bridging and resonating with meaning.

    I can now begin to both cogitate and feel the meaning working energetically at the crux of the gospel announcement; never just a recurring spring, but a subtle reversal of the fall at a molecular level. — And, most importantly, Updike leaves the reader, at the end of the poem, with a crucial and appropriate challenge; embrace that subtle paradox of dying, yet risen; kings enthroned, yet usurped. Elsewise the cross doesn’t any make sense.

    – No easy answers here; like a patient in the early stages of a newfound “flat cancer” threatening his life, trying to understand how this can be so!? — when in fact, said patient is able to still run for miles and miles and not get tired; still do one-hand push-ups and not fall down; still think complex thoughts and not be befuddled; still laugh, forgetting himself for a time, forgetting about fate..

    If the patient can reflect on this condition and dare to think further up and deeper in, or I should rather say, further DOWN and deeper in, then he may be able to (re)imagine another thing happening at a molecular level, a thing that is quite contrary to the cancer’s claim on his body. And suddenly the two truths that have been riddling him becomes more sensible, more, I daresay, imaginative…

  2. MJG says:

    Happy Easter.

  3. Dm says:

    – Wow thanks! And a “hoppy” easter to you.

  4. Hello Dr. Gorman,

    I’m sorry to leave this question here. I don’t think your email works :-) . I am seeking to understand your views on justification. I understand that you define the term as “the establishment of right relations with God.” I think this is a good definition. There is one thing I need clarification on. I know that there is more to justification than just the forensic side; there is also the covenant side as well. So those who are justified actually become righteous. Now as to that actually becoming righteous, would you say that is justification or is it the outworking of justification?

    The reason I am a bit confused is because I think of justification as a legal declaration that one is part of the covenant. Their sins are forgiven,there is no more condemnation, and they are the inheritors of the great promises. Yet since justification also has to do with the establishment of right covenant relations it is effective. Can you help me understand the legal dimension (that sure declaration of no condemnation) and the covenant? How does that once for all (to be reaffirmed in the future) declaration relate to what you’re saying? Sorry if I am being confusing.

  5. MJG says:


    Thanks for the comment; no problem.

    First of all, though, an alternative email: mjgorman55 [at] I’ll check on the problem with the other address.

    If justification is the establishment of right relations with God (I could give a longer definition, but those are my own words), it helps to see how that happens, and the answer Paul gives, in my view, is that justification is by faith, which for him is the participatory experience of dying with Christ and thus sharing in his faithfulness and love (Gal 2). Justification, that is, is by co-crucifixion, which means essentially life from death, or resurrection by death. Justification is a resurrection, a coming to life (“that I might live to God”). The declarative dimension is inherently effective; when God speaks, something happens, such as life.

    I have discussed all this at length in chapter 2 of my book Inhabiting the Cruciform God. It is obviously much more dynamic and robust than the traditional interpretation of Paul and imputation or legal declaration. I simply don’t think that Paul’s understanding of justification is fully or adequately described by legal (“forensic”) terms.

    The assurance of no condemnation is true, but not merely because our sins are forgiven or because we are declared something (though both are true) but, at least according to the beginning of Romans 8, we are liberated from Sin and we are in Christ and we belong to Christ and the just requirement of the Law can now be fulfilled in us—the covenant will be fulfilled, the faithfulness and love that God wants from us and that materialized in Christ are now ours because he lives in us and we in him.

    I would agree with Tom Wright that any divine declaration in the present gets re-done, or reaffirmed, so to speak in the future. But that is a minor part of Paul’s understanding of justification. Justification means that we have been made one of the just ones, and it is the just/justified whom God will vindicate on that day.

    This interpretation makes it quite clear that there can be no justification without justice, ethics, transformation, and the like.

    Hope that helps.

  6. Thanks Dr. Gorman. That was EXTREMELY helpful. I was just listening to Romans on audio all the way through and after hearing Paul’s complete argument I thought, “that sounds like what Michael Gorman was saying!” Thank you brother.

  7. MJG says:


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