Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

Seven Stanzas At Easter

By John Updike
1964

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,” 1964

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Miracles

I’m supposed to be working on my dissertation right now but, well, clearly I am not. Instead I’m sitting here thinking about something I read early this morning. It is about miracles.

“Another problem with defining miracles as ‘violations of natural law’ is that this definition overlooks the fact that we now live in a fallen creation where, for example, enslavement, sickness, and death appear to be natural. Is it indeed the case that liberation, healing, and resurrection from the dead are contrary to the ‘laws of nature’? They may be contrary to what we have come to expect in this world, but from the perspective of God’s good creation and his coming kingdom, enslavement, sickness, and death are unnatural, and liberation, healing, and eternal life are natural (Gen2-3; Rev 21:4). From that perspective, then, miracles are not to be seen as ‘unnatural’ but as signs of God’s kingdom breaking into our fallen world, provisional indications of the restoration of God’s creation to its original goodness…Miracles, in short, are signs of God’s kingdom.” Sidney Greidanus – The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text 

 This is Advent on the church calendar. We are just a few days and nights away from Christmas Day – as my sons reminded me yesterday. I cannot think of a greater miracle than the Birth of Christ. Bethlehem was the epicenter of God breaking into fallen creation.

After all, we celebrate Christmas because of a claim that a virgin gave birth to a baby, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. We celebrate angels filling the night sky over some shepherds in a field – telling them that Christ the Lord was born in Bethlehem and saying, “Glory to God in the highest on earth Peace toward those with whom he is please.” We celebrate wise men, following a star bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in order to worship the new-born king.

Adoration of the Magi by Rembrandt

There is more to the story, of course, that isn’t all we celebrate. We celebrate the fact that this child grew up and turned water to wine at a wedding, that he calmed a storm, walked on water, feed thousands, healed the lame, raised the dead, and gave sight to the blind. We also celebrate the fact that He died, conquered sin, death and hell, rose again, and sits at God’s right hand. In so doing – Jesus provides the way for salvation – to those who will put their faith in him. In the midst of celebrating the miracle of Christ’s first Advent we long for the day when Christ will come again – triumphant – and the celebration will have no end.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Rembrandt

Whether we realize it or not what we celebrate every 25th of December is a miracle. Foundational to the Christian faith is a hope that miracles happen – that angels really do light up the night and that God love us and is at work in the world. Above all else, this miracle of Christ coming into the world, is a sign of God’s Kingdom and the promise that all things will be made new – restored, fully and wholly to God’s good purposes.

Kids & Worship: Easy Like Sunday Morning?

Kids in Worship: His hand in mine

The other day I was cruising across town flipping through radio stations like I do with the TV remote. I’m not sure what I was looking for (okay, probably ACDC or some other metal which is hard to find on FM). For some reason I stopped on easy listening or soft rock or something. A song came on that I had not heard in years (not that I missed it). It was Lionel Richie singing Easy. The chorus of that song is somewhat catchy – one line caught my attention. Richie sings, “That’s why I’m easy – easy like Sunday morning.” The thought ran through my head, “What the heck is he talking about? Easy like Sunday morning? Has he ever taken kids to worship on a Sunday morning?!”

For a lot of families Sunday morning can be one of the most frustrating times of the week. Sitting with kids during a morning worship service, for some families, is akin to some form of punishment. Truth be told, sitting around some families during a worship service can be form of punishment for other folks as well. I understand the challenges. I also understand the benefits and the dangers for families who do not worship together.

Over the years I have become more and more convinced that churches & families ought to do the hard work of being together – with kids – for corporate worship. Believe me, I’m not naïve. I know that it can be a struggle. I do think that churches should offer child-care for children up to the age of five – but beyond that – I think kids need to participate in worship.

What does that mean?

Well it means that those in charge of putting worship together will have to be aware and account for every pair of shoes in the room. That’s not to say that everything must be “kidded down” but rather “kid friendly.” It means that worship leaders and preachers should think about how the service will be heard and experienced by little ones. This is so important because kids will not one day be part of the church but they are already part of the church. Believe it or not – kids do pick up on what is going on in worship. They can actually listen and take part – if they are helped to participate by those who are putting things together.

But the onus is not just on the worship leaders and pastors – it’s on parents as well.

This may seem harsh but worship is not a break from parenting. I’ve heard that before from some folks – and believe me – my heart goes out to them. Raising kids is not a simple calling. It is tough and sometimes parents want and need a break. But in all honestly, worship is not the right time for a break.

A good friend of mine who has raised four boys – and I mean boys who have become men – said something to me one day about the work of helping kids to worship. She said to remind parents that this is just a stage – a time that families are passing and that part of their act of worship each Sunday morning is to help their children learn to worship. In other words, parents must parent as an act of worship.

What’s happening in worship? Well, in a nutshell we are learning to reorder our love – moving it away from ourselves toward God the Father, Son and Spirit. That is not easy for adults let alone a child. Have you ever heard a child say, “Mine!” and refuse to share? Perhaps one reason helping our children to worship is so difficult is because we are trying to help them overcome human nature, teaching them they are not the center of the universe – God is.

It is not just worship leaders, pastors and parents who need to work on this – it is the whole church community. The Christian church is supposed to be a community of people – called together by God through work of Christ enabled by the Spirit. We are not individuals. We are a corporate body. That means that we need each other and we need to help each other. There will be times when families enter our worship who have little to no experience in a worship service. We need to figure out ways to help them and their children to adjust to what is taking place. We need to be patient and kind and we need to look around the room with a great deal of warmth and gentleness in our expressions.

There is nothing easy about a Sunday morning. Getting up, getting dressed, heading out with kids in tow on a Sunday in our culture is tough. Some of that has to do with the breakneck pace we live during the week (sports, music lessons, etc, etc). But it is so important for children to see and participate in worship. It is important for them to hear a congregation pray – a congregation confess sin – a congregation give thanks to God for His forgiveness – a congregation to sing – a congregation to partake of the Lord’s Supper – and a congregation respond to Scripture. It is not easy but it is worth the work that it is supposed to take.

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Some Practical Help:

Here’s something Sherry and I have found to be helpful – and believe me – Sherry and I have the same challenges that a lot of folks do – we have three boys who are all boy all the time. Sunday mornings can be anything but easy at our house – but here is something that has been useful.

On the way to church we talk about where we are going and we ask them why. We try to focus their attention on the fact that we worship as a response to God’s love (we are trying to shape our family by the law of love and shalom). We try to see if they can tell us ways that they know God loves them. We also talk about ways that we need to love God more with our whole hearts – as a way to think about confession of sin.

After the service we generally talk about what they heard in Sunday School (for our youngest) and Student Ministry for our older two. Sherry came up with three questions she asks about the sermon. They work in our context but you may want to come up with some of your own. One of us will ask: 1) Who preached?  2) What was the text?  3) What was one thing the pastor said that you heard and meant something to you?

Worshiping as a family is work. But it is so important that parents communicate the importance of worship to their children. It will shape their expectation and their understanding of what it means to be followers of Christ. That needs to be reinforced by the worship leaders, pastors and the congregation as a whole.