Marilynne Robinson, Jörg Frey, and the resurrection of the troubled one

Not long ago I was struck by an unexpected intersection between my current translation of Jörg Frey’s essays on John and my nightly reading of Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila. Indeed, I think it is quite possible that Robinson is consciously alluding to the Johannine passage that Frey discusses. Whether or not this is the case, however, I at least found the juxtaposition meaningful and am thus passing it along as something of an Easter meditation. I’ll start with the Robinson quotation so that I can include the German of the Frey quotation after the English translation. Finally, I’ve added a bonus resurrection allusion at the end of the post for all lovers of Sherlock Holmes.

Marilynne Robinson (Lila, p. 92): She meant to ask the old man sometime what would happen when they were all resurrected and he had two wives. He had preached about that, which probably meant he had been wondering, too—they won’t be male or female, they won’t marry or be given in marriage. Jesus said that. So the old man wouldn’t have a wife at all, not even one. This girl and her child, after so many years, would be like anyone else to him. He might be as young as he was when she left him. Lila could see sometimes what he’d been like when he was young. The girl would still be holding that baby he had hardly even had a chance to hold. And there would be no change in her, and no change in him, as if dying had never happened. It would be a strange kind of heaven, after all they’d been through, and all the waiting, if he did not feel a different peace when he stood beside them. Lily could watch them, and love them, because old Doll would be there to say, “It don’t matter.” Don’t want what you don’t need and you’ll be fine. Don’t want what you can’t have. Doll would be there, ugly with all the trouble of her life. Lila might not know her otherwise.

* For a recent discussion of Robinson on theology, see see Kathryn Heidelberger’s post at DET.

Jörg Frey (“Bodiliness and Resurrection in the Gospel of John”; trans. W. Coppins and C. Heilig): As in the preceding scene with Mary it is recorded that the disciples saw “the Lord,” i.e. that they recognized the one who appeared to them as their familiar Lord. This is effected not through a demonstrative eating but through a personal experience of encounter that mediates the new assurance and Easter joy. This experience is also ignited here through the address by Jesus (in this case with the greeting of peace) and through the bodily form of the crucified one, which is characterized as unmistakable not through a reference to his hands and feet but—in correspondence with John 19.34—through the reference to the hands and the ‘side.’ The risen one is thus the one who is familiar to the disciples from the time of his activity and—decidedly—the crucified one, with his identity after Easter also being enduringly characterized by the signa crucifixi. The stigmata of the crucified one, the marks of the nails in his hands and the wound in his side, confirm the identity of the appearing one with the crucified one. In them it becomes clear whom the disciples see—namely, the previously crucified “Lord.” His appearance drives away fear, mediates Easter joy, and enables the disciples, in the power of the Spirit, to continue the work of this Lord in the post-Easter period (cf. 14.12).

* N.B. The ET contains a few additions/modifications in relation to the German version

“Leiblichkeit und Auferstehung im Johannesevangelium” (pp. 732-733 in Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten): Wie in der vorausgehenden Szene mit Maria wird festgestellt, daß die Jünger ‘den Herrn’ sahen, d.h. daß sie den ihnen Erscheinenden als den ihnen vertrauten Herrn wiedererkannten. Bewirkt wird dies nicht durch demonstratives Essen, sondern durch eine persönliche Erfahrung der Begegnung, die neue Gewißheit und österliche Freude vermittelt. Diese Erfahrung entzündet sich auch hier an der Anrede durch Jesus (hier mit dem Friedensgruß) und an der leiblichen Gestalt des Gekreuzigten, die nun nicht durch Hände und Füße, sondern in Entsprechung zu Joh 19,34 durch der Hinweis auf die ‘Seite’ als unverwechselbar gekennzeichnet ist. Der Auferstandene ist somit der den Jüngern aus der Zeit seines Wirkens Vertraute und – dezidiert – der Gekreuzigte, und auch seine Identität nach Ostern ist bleibend durch die signa crucifixi gekennzeichnet. Die stigmata des Gekreuzigten, die Hände und die Seitenwunde, lassen die Identität des Erscheinenden mit dem Gekreuzigten zur Gewißheit werden. An ihnen wird deutlich, wen die Jünger sehen, nämlich den zuvor gekreuzigten “Herrn”. Seine Erscheinung vertreibt die Furcht, vermittelt die österliche Freude und befähigt die Jünger, also Zeugen in der Kraft des Geistes das Werk dieses Herrn in der nachösterlichen Zeit fortzusetzen (cf. Joh 14,12).

Rather than concluding this email with an analysis, let me end it with another apparent allusion to the resurrection that I stumbled upon this year, which I found to be less profound but perhaps even more delightful. This time the connections to Luke 24:36-42 are especially evident, at least to my eye:

Sherlock Holmes (The Adventure of the Empty House, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, p. 485-486):

I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned again, Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time in my life. Certainly a gray mist swirled before my eyes, and when it cleared I found my collar-ends undone and the tingling after-taste of brandy upon my lips. Holmes was bending over my chair, his flask in his hand.

“My dear Watson,” said the well-remembered voice, “I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected.”

I gripped him by the arms. “Holmes!” I cried. “Is it really you? Can it indeed be that you are alive? Is it possible that you succeeded in climbing out of that awful abyss?”

“Wait a moment,” said he. “Are you sure that you are really fit to discuss things? I have given you a serious shock by my unnecessarily dramatic reappearance.”

“I am all right, but indeed, Holmes, I can hardly believe my eyes. Good heavens! to think that you – you of all men – should be standing in my study.” Again I gripped him by the sleeve, and felt the thin, sinewy arm beneath it. “Well, you’re not a spirit, anyhow,” said I. “My dear chap, I’m overjoyed to see you. Sit down, and tell me how you came alive out of that dreadful chasm.”

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne