Apr  2011 20
Easter Faith

A short story by John Updike comes to mind this season. It’s called “Short Easter” and focuses on a character named “Fogel”. Fogel is nearing retirement age and through the years, he has made a long journey away from Easter faith. Easter and all that it represents has lost its grip on him. Easter, he muses, has always been a holiday that lacked real impact. In contrast with Christmas or Thanksgiving, Easter for him always came across as being rather flat.

The story takes place on an Easter Sunday afternoon. Fogel is tired and sore from the work his wife made him do in the garden. He is drowsy from the extra bloody Mary that he treated himself to at brunch. So that he is not disturbed, Fogel goes up to his son’s room to take a nap. His son is all grown up and gone so he has the room all to himself.

Sitting on the bed, he notices what his son has kept from his growing up years. The photos, moments stolen from his life in sports, yearbooks and trophies, banners hanging on the wall, letter jackets in the closet, and shot glasses stolen from exotic places. He lies down and falls into the deepest kind of sleep.

Then he starts to dream. He dreams of his parents—long dead—and in the dream his parents hover over him. They are saying something but he can’t quite make it out. Whatever it is startles him awake and he sits up in bed.

It’s dark. He is stiff from lying in a fetal position. For a moment he forgets where he is and he is frightened. What was that strange sense of terror that cut through him like a knife, he wonders?

Everything was still in place, John Updike tells us, but something was immensely missing.

What’s “immensely missing” from Fogel’s life and from many of our own Easter celebrations is a sense of Mystery. It is so easy to remove the terror from the story to fill it with sweet smelling bouquets of exclamation points. What would a Jesus on the other side of death say to us about our own death-dealing ways in the world? An “Easter-lite” that looks like a bunny hopping across the lawn will soon lose its grip when it faces Death. When Jesus does appear to his disciples, their joy is interlaced with terror.

Just as we remember “Short Easter” during this season, it is well to remember the last one of Updike’s Seven Stanzas For Easter:

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.

Browse more posts by: Richard Ward, Phillips Faculty
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