Not as Children of Death: Stroupe on the Resurrection

Magdalen of Night Light
By George de la Tour [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Death, according to Nibs Stroupe, casts a heavy screen over our vision, beclouding not only our view of the surrounding world, but also hiding from us our true identity as beloved children of God. In a sermon on the encounter in the garden between the Risen Jesus and Mary of Magdala (John 20:1-18), Stroupe interprets resurrection as "recognition."

Deeper Waters: Sermons for a New Vision, By Nibs Stroupe (edited by Collin Cornell) (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017).

Mary is the only individual mentioned in all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection, and in the passage from John, she is the first witness to meet the risen Lord. The church, as Stroupe notes, has often been embarrassed to name women as primary witnesses to the resurrection. (If even the Apostle Paul neglects to mention Mary and other women in is paradigmatic resurrection keryma -- I Cor. 15 -- it is hardly surprising that later interpreters would stumble over this fact as well. And check out Luke 24:1-12 for one of the earliest, but hardly the last, example of "mansplaining" within the Christian tradition.)

How striking it is, though, that Mary, one among Jesus' closest circle of Apostles, fails to recognize the Lord, instead mistaking him for the gardener. But why? Stroupe writes:

She can't recognize him because she is captured by the power of death. It's not that Mary Magdalene recognizes the risen Jesus and decides not to acknowledge it. She cannot recognize him. Her perpetual apparatus doesn't comprehend it. Her eyes and her heart and her ears and her mind are captured by death (p. 26, emphasis mine).

William Stringfellow speaks of death in a similar way, if somewhat more densely and opaquely than Stroupe does here: Specifically, the power of death is manifest in disinformation, doublespeak, and "babble" that occlude death's machinations in and through the fallen powers of ideology, image, and institution. As a consequence, we lose grip on our own identities as individuals beloved and called in the Word of God to be, simply, human. Stringfellow homes in on this dynamic at work in the way the Nixon administration handled news of the war in Indo-China, ideologically twisting an historic military escalation into "winding down the war." He writes of death's conscience-killing semantic bait-and-switch:

Babel means the inversion of language, verbal inflation, libel, rumor, euphemism and coded phrases, rhetorical wantonness, redundancy, hyperbole, such profusion in speech and sound that comprehension is impaired, nonsense, sophistry, jargon, noise, incoherence, a chaos of voices and tongues, falsehood, blasphemy (An Ethic for Christians and Others in a Strange Land, 1974, p. 106).

I do discern a bit of a difference between the ways Stroupe and Stringfellow are approaching this topic (at least, in terms of the texts I've read). Whereas the former focuses more on Mary as being beguiled by the falsehoods of death, the later is more apt to portray the wiles of death -- and of the principalities and powers that serve as its "acolytes" -- in active terms. But fortunately for the early disciples as well as for us, the Word of God is even more active and powerful than death.

One might, then, with these two Protestant teachers come to see resurrection, in the first instance, as the Holy Spirit's exercise in sovereign truth-telling, and the our portion in this process is to speak the truth of life in face of the powers of death. In this process, we regain ourselves but of coming finally to recognize ourselves and our dignity as human beings. Stroupe writes:

[I]t is enough to hear that it is possible that we can hear our names being called by the risen Jesus; that the resurrection is not just about Mary Magdalene or Peter or John -- it's about our lives, too. It is about the possibility of hearing our names called, calling us out of the tombs of death, calling us out of the power of fear, calling us to hear our true calling, our true definition not as the children of death, but rather as the children of life, the children of God (p. 28).

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