Thursday, March 01, 2007

Do You Believe This?

About 2000 years ago, a weathered old Jewish priest named Simeon was standing in the cool, shadowy interior of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was holding a little baby in his arms. With a surge of spiritual insight and trembling with emotion, Simeon whispered to the humble mother standing by "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

Two millennia have passed and that old priest's words ring truer than ever. Jesus is still a sign that is contradicted (or spoken against); our image of Him is still sometimes confused. His words remain an enigma that many feel is unsolvable. The truth of Who He is, Who He said He was, is still so contended, so contradicted that Mother Church still feels the stab of that unbelieving sword in her soul.

I think it all comes down to one question. The one He Himself asked to a troubled and weeping Martha, herself confused when standing beside another tomb just outside of Jerusalem. Martha was mourning the loss of her brother, Lazarus, who was wrapped in burial clothes and locked in the stone cave before them.

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Oh there it is! The kicker at the end of this dialogue is so often missed or dissed as just some sweet "spiritual" sentiment, no matter how many times we hear it read at funerals and wakes.

"Do you believe this?"

We have to respond to the question. So.... do you? Do we? Do I believe this? And let's not call it by any other name. Don't "spiritualize" it, metaphorize or anesthetize it. Listen to the words of the writer/poet John Updike. Oh this is a good one. This one should go on the fridge, or at your desk in the office, or on the nightstand at home because it's just so good.

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-mache,
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, Seven Stanzas at Easter

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