John Updike: Easter
“The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
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.” John Updike, Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike not only gave us this poem reminding us of the real bodily experience of the Easter story, but among other things, one of my favorite resurrection short stories in The Afterlife and Other Short Stories called, “Short Easter,” about the occasion when daylight saving time begins on Easter Sunday. I first read the story in volume 2 of Listening for God, a series of short stories selected by Paula Carlson and Peter Hawkins, the first then from the department of English and the second a professor of Religion and Literature, both at Yale University. The four-part series includes a DVD about the author of each contemporary short story which can be studied especially in a book group to use literature as an icon to hear and see God.
In “Short Easter,” this high holy day for Christians becomes one hour shorter when the clocks are jumped forward and an hour of sleep is stolen. “Church bells rang in the dark.” Updike goes through the day of a well to do man named Fogel (“Fog” is God spelled backwards.) who keeps wanting to attend church services on Easter Day but puts it off until at the end of the day, he has never gone. At the story’s end, Fogel wakes up from an afternoon nap “amid that unnatural ache of resurrection.. the weight of coming again to life” and realizes that “although everything in his world is in place, there is something immensely missing.”
This is the moment of clarity that God continuously reveals to us. I regularly need to remind myself and spiritual friends to try to be open to that moment that is often fearful as it was for Fogel. It is like the fear of the women at the empty tomb on Easter Day. It is resurrection. It always speaks to something more that we have missed.
We have put something else in our “God hole,” and whatever it is, prestige, money, marriage, work, family, fame, beauty, it will never fill that hole inside of us where only God is large enough to live.