Saturday 14 March 2009

William Stringfellow: freedom from death

William Stringfellow’s theological writing is pervaded by the conviction that the resurrection of Jesus frees us from the dominion of death. The world is ruled by principalities – by suprahuman, suprapersonal institutional powers which bind human life to the service of death. But the gospel sets us free to live and work within these institutions as servants of Christ; we are freed from the dominion of the principalities, since the resurrection of Christ frees us from the fear of death. Since death is the only power with which the principalities can threaten us, we have nothing whatsoever to fear! This, for Stringfellow, is the gospel; this is the Christian life.

Reading Rupert Shortt’s new biography of Rowan Williams, I came across a passage that beautifully illustrates this theme of freedom from death. On the morning of September 11, Rowan Williams was due to address a group of Christian leaders in a building next to Trinity Church, Wall Street – just one block away from the World Trade Center. They watched and waited in horror as the morning's events unfolded. When the first tower collapsed, their building began to shake and fill with smoke and soot. Rowan gathered with a few others in a stairway, trying to breathe the suffocating air. They felt certain they were going to die. Fred Burnham later described the experience:

“None of us will ever forget it. We were bonded for life. We became comrades in the face of death. And there was in the group a total submission and resignation to the prospect of death…. And I discovered for the first time that I am not afraid of death, and that has totally changed my life. My experience, my every breath from that moment on has been different from anything prior to that. That transformative moment, discovering that you are not afraid to die, can totally transfigure your life” (Rupert Shortt, Rowan's Rule, p. 214).

This is exactly the message of William Stringfellow’s theology: because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find ourselves strangely unafraid of death’s power; we discover that we are free. And this means that nothing will ever be the same again.


Christopher said...

Hebrews 2:15

Anonymous said...

As I was reading I was stuck by the idea that in some way you were describing the Holy Eucharist. The quotation from Burnham is, I think, at the core of the Eucharistic prayer. If we are "comrades in the face of death" then we are also comrades in the face of life.

A great post, thank you. Peace, Mike

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