Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

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-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.

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.

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The Lonely Mountain and the Lonely

There is a heart-warming scene in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit near the end of the book where Thorin Oakenshield lies dying from wounds he received during the Battle of the Five Armies.  As he dies, Thorin shares his last words with Bilbo, a simple hobbit who had proved to be a faithful companion and friend to Thorin through some very difficult times.  And his last words had nothing to do with how Bilbo had helped the company escape from capture by three trolls, or from a cadre of giant spiders, or from being locked in an elvish dungeon.  Thorin commended Bilbo for his love of hearth and home:

Thorin and his company of dwarves had grown weary of their exile from their homeland, having been driven out of the Lonely Mountain by the terrible power of the dragon Smaug.  And the dwarves longed for their home and for the inheritance of wealth that had been stolen from them, an inheritance that they wanted to regain.  But somewhere along the way, somewhere in their travels, the value of the wealth the dwarves sought to regain overtook the value they placed on regaining their home.  And only here at the end of his life did Thorin’s fading eyes regain their sight.  It wasn’t gold and jewels and the vast comforts that the Lonely Mountain afforded that held life-sustaining value.  It was family and friends sharing life around a common table, however slim the fare might be, that was the true treasure worth pursuing.

Many of us, if you can allow me to extend the Hobbit analogy, have retaken the Lonely Mountain and have failed to see that the comforts we have are always best when shared with others.  We like to think we value “…food and cheer and song…” as much as the next person, but we rub elbows with people at work, in our community, in our churches, and even next door who are lonely… strangers to the warmth of our tables and our companionship.  And a dear lady in the church I serve reminded me of this when I asked for prayer requests one time.  She simply said, “We need to watch out for the lonely.”  That was a few weeks ago and her words have been my constant companion.  Those words make me wonder: who do I see on a regular basis that may wrestle with loneliness?  Who might see the craziness that gathers around our family table as a taste of medicine for what ails them?  Who would feel warmly remembered by receiving a hand-written note from me, an impromptu phone call, or an invite to grab a cup of coffee some evening?  Where do I see the lonely and how can I participate in bringing them Bilbo’s “…food and cheer and song…”?

And then I remember that it is the LORD himself who points us in this direction.  The 68th Psalm speaks to us along these lines (emphasis mine):

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
     is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
     he leads out the prisoners with singing… (Psalm 68.5-6 NIV)

The LORD is the original champion of “…food and cheer and song…”  For what else are His redeemed children called to do but to gather each week to feed at His table, to remember the glad news of life conquering death, and to sing our hearts out alongside people of all walks of life?  And while the LORD trains us to love and value “…food and cheer and song…,” the back doors of our church sanctuaries can be a cold reminder for those that wrestle with loneliness that they are departing fellowship to re-enter isolation.  So maybe – just maybe – we can begin to do as my dear sister asked a few weeks ago: to watch out for the lonely.  And once we see them, how do we invite them into the food and the cheer and the songs of our lives?  We may be the kings and queens of our own Lonely Mountain, but do we have the heart of a simple hobbit from Bag End?  Are we willing to reflect God’s good work of setting the lonely in families and leading in song those who have been set free?

Review of “What are Spiritual Gifts?”

What Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional ViewWhat Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional View by Kenneth Berding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a grind to get through but the author has done solid exegetical work. It is a great antidote to the conventional approach to the idea that Holy Spirit gives special abilities at conversion that need to be discovered and that the church has to somehow figure out how to match its needs up with these oft-hidden gifts among its people.

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